Monday, 13 January 2014

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: AMERICAN HUSTLE

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

15. AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013, dir. David O. Russell)

13/01/2014


I take it that everyone who is going to see "American Hustle" has now seen it, as this film did raise one of my primary passions about film, although I am hoping to write about it in such a way that doesn't give anything huge away. The problem here is a comparison Jimmy Carr made between dissecting a joke and dissecting a frog, as no one is laughing, and the frog is still dead, but I think we'll get by OK.

"American Hustle" is a suspense narrative, which is my favourite type. It is the difference between having a bomb explode, providing a few seconds of reaction, and having a few minutes of waiting for a bomb to explode, anticipating what will happen when the explosion occurs, and wondering why there isn't enough urgency from the characters that don't know this. 

It is no wonder why Alfred Hitchcock preferred this form, as it is much easier to control the reactions an audience will make to what they see. Sure, a mystery plot, like those by Agatha Christie, will reward the audience by having Miss Marple or Poirot go through all you have seen and confirm that yes, you were right after all, but give an audience suspense, and those little bits of information will be made to work more, and the audience really will have put all the pieces together themselves, as they are ahead of the characters, and Miss Marple or Poirot do not need to exist.

Why am I telling you all this? It is because "American Hustle," with its layers of duplicity between its characters, is operating a tense framework of suspense in every possible direction, each person only willing to give away something if they feel it will get them the advantage they need, all in service of an FBI operation that ,of course, relies on its targets not knowing it exists - there comes a point in a very tense conversation with a Mafia head, played by Robert De Niro, where you think the operation is on the verb of collapse, and the situation is saved by coincidence, providing a breather for everyone - as Hitchcock said himself, you should, ultimately, never let the bomb go off, or risk sending your audience over the edge, as he learnt to his cost when disregarding his own rule, killing a child and his dog on a bus in "Sabotage" (1936).

However, "American Hustle" finally reveals that the lead characters themselves were withholding information from the everyone, including the audience, in a way that feels like Poirot coming out and solving the puzzle. To do this properly, the audience must not feel cheated, but if you have felt like you can only take everything up to that point at its face value, everyone have less to lose. The reason this film made it work so well was that it formed part of a larger suspense plot - whether they could get off scott free, risk free, and within the law. That is all I will say, as I can't wait to see it again when I buy it on blu-ray later. 

1 comment:

  1. Everybody was a blast to watch here, but mainly Cooper and Lawrence, who always brought the film's energy up whenever they did something. Anything, actually. Good review L.J.

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