There’s been much comparison made lately between American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street. This is for good reason. The Scorsese film has come under immense fire from those who either a) did not like its penchant for nudity, drugs and general depravity or b) did not like it because they felt it glorifies its main character. But what these people are missing is the essential understanding that the film is not advocating Jordan Belfort in the slightest. It actually thinks he’s ridiculous and horrible (Martin Scorsese practically feels like he’s poking his head out after each scene and saying “can you believe these assholes?”). The “problem” with Wolf, is that it has the gall to recognize our society’s complicity with this behavior and all the ways we help in propitiating these monsters and con artists by giving them a pass or maybe even worshiping them … Scorsese is just showering us with the cosmic ridiculousness of all this. And we don’t like that. We like our movies to punish bad guys because we don’t do it in real life. We want the unrepentant con artists to pay, dammit! Well, except when our movies tell us to like them. Because American Hustle is a movie that worships the con artist. And unsurprisingly, people love it. But that’s the thing about movies and society: people like to be indulged, not punished. And between the two films we should be agreeing with the themes of Wolf of Wall Street (which actually seconds our rage at the unfairness of it all, but asks tough questions of the audience about why we do nothing), but American Hustle is the one that holds up the movie-going and societal status quo. And thus it’s the one we worship. The one that gets awards thrown at it. That’s the one that proves even our best and brightest film-lovers just like to be indulged.
I’ve never liked something more than this.