The holidays are synonymous with movies. Years ago, my family used to go to the theater every Thanksgiving night for the release of the new, box-office busting Disney movie. I have a distinct memory sitting in the theater for 101 Dalmations (the remake, of course, with Glenn Close) waiting for the previews to begin and watching my little brother shake hands and introduce himself to other, much older, movie-goers as they walked in to find their seats. From the age of three he was a politician in the making, but that’s another story.
There were a handful of movies I wanted to see this year—Anchorman 2, The Book Thief, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years A Slave, Catching Fire among others. But the movie I most wanted to see was David O. Russel’s American Hustle. With Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale in leading roles, who wouldn’t? American Hustle is quite the departure from Russel’s masterpiece the previous year, Silver Linings Playbook. I know. It’s my own fault I even entered the theater with that in my mind, but with two of the same actors, Lawrence and Cooper, it was hard not draw lines between two.
American Hustle opens with the line “Some of this actually happened.” I didn’t think about those first words very much throughout the duration of the movie, but looking back now, I realize it was perfect. It warns the audience to not take anything they’re about to see too seriously, to not be afraid to laugh even when it feels inappropriate (this happens a lot) or uncomfortable. Most of all, the line asks you to question the authenticity of the coming events and the people driving them. For a movie about the construction of individual realities, this blurs the distinction between truth and deceit even more. “People believe what they want to believe” is repeated over and over again throughout the film.
I was fooled, along with the rest of the audience I imagine, that American Hustle was a cut-and-dry mainstream movie about crime and money and love and the intersections of the three. What I didn’t expect were the layers of humor, dark avant-garde moments and according to my brother, some Cohen-brother-esque instances of violence and absurdity. Amy Adams’ performance is an example of this. I don’t know if there is another actress out there who can convey multiple, contradicting emotions in just one glance at the camera, but she nails it. (Spoiler Alert!) The last scene in the film is Amy looking back at the audience, her face full of both happiness and contentment yet longing and desire. In that scene, you can’t help but feel as if she’s settling for something lackluster.
I didn’t plan to go see The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, I didn’t know much about it until watching the trailer right before I left for the theater. Prepare yourselves for this one: its three hours of non-stop money, sex and drugs. But if you can look past the superficial, you will be blown away by the performances. I hope DiCaprio finally gets his Oscar from this one. He was the perfect man for the part—within his character of Jordan Belfort, you could peek glimpses of other DiCaprio roles: Gatsby, Frank Abagnale from Catch Me If You Can, and I swear, his voice has never been the same since he played Danny Archer in Blood Diamond. While Wolf lacked the depth and layers of American Hustle, Wolf was far more entertaining and exciting to watch, even at three hours long.
The funny thing about the two films is that essentially they are the same. Money, greed, deception, notoriety… both films are a modern day tale of the American Dream and the false hopes it sustains. It’s impossible to watch either movie without considering our nation’s reliance on money in the abstract. It certainly points out flaws in our system, and unveils greed as perhaps the root cause of our financial downfalls. But you have to ask yourself, who is to blame here? If our economy is rooted in greed, how could we not see this coming?
Truly, this is getting into a conversation I am not prepared to have. English major, over here. I don’t think I make enough money to fully understand it yet. If anything, these films showed me I better get a grip on how our financial system works because news flash, its not going anywhere.
All in all, both American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street ask you to question who the real bad guys are because in the end, you’re not so sure. Hopefully, you leave the theater realizing not everything is as it seems and that in reality, everyone is just doing their best to survive.