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One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems 
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Post One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
So in the wake of the latest explosion of love, Oscar style, for a David O. Russell creation, I started thinking about what I found so problematic about the film. I've mentioned here before around these parts that the movie focuses too much on characters, to the detriment of plot, and upon thinking more I realized that there's one scene in which this is perfectly demonstrated.

Vagueish spoilers ahead.

During a pivotal sequence in the movie, our heroes use a Hispanic FBI agent to pose as an Arab sheik. They ask him if he can speak Arabic and he says he knows one phrase (Salaam alaikum). They take him to a meeting with various mobsters.

During the meeting he says nothing, but the most fearsome mobster turns out to speak Arabic. He asks him a series of complicated questions in Arabic. The fake sheik doesn't respond. The mobster keeps asking. The tension grows greater. And then...the fake sheik responds in Arabic.

What? How? The situation was completely set up so that he doesn't speak Arabic, and then suddenly he does. And NO ONE MENTIONS ANYTHING. The movie just movies blithely on. Despite the fact that the mobster has to be incredibly suspicious, it doesn't matter. Despite the fact that this doesn't jibe at all with what the script has established, it doesn't matter. No mention is ever given to this again. And it pisses me off.

Compare this to the poker scene from The Sting, and you'll see why the movie annoys me -- a movie about con men needs to be well plotted, not haphazardly arranged so we can have more David O Russell characters-yelling-at-each-other scenes.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 10:46 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
I loved the film a lot more than you did. I am not going to sit here and argue that this scene isn't an issue because it is, probably one of the few I could point out to as being genuinely wrong. It goes against the established traits of the fake Sheikh character, and the ending to this specific scene definitely feels like a cop-out.

However, I will say that it is one of those in-the-moment cop-outs which don't bother me as much because of the way the tension is built-up, and how engrossed with the scene I actually am. There were similar complaints about Argo last year as well, specifically lots of scenes towards the climax, and that film ended up being my favorite of the year. And I would give the same excuse. The acting, editing and direction generate a lot of tension that I am practically on the edge of my seat. I am involved with the plight of these characters and am genuinely interested in how it'll all pan out that even an oversight as big as that one is not going to bother me.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 10:57 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
I hate to defend the film with how not-great it is but the fake sheik did say he knew a few other phrases in Arabic too on the plane.

It's your fault for not paying attention...possibly the theater's fault if the volume was too low but not the movie's fault.


Sat Jan 18, 2014 11:34 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
patrick wrote:
I hate to defend the film with how not-great it is but the fake sheik did say he knew a few other phrases in Arabic too on the plane.

It's your fault for not paying attention...possibly the theater's fault if the volume was too low but not the movie's fault.

I actually did pay attention, and he says, "I know a couple of other phrases!" A couple of other doesn't mean he speaks Arabic with the fluency with which he does in the actual scene. Until he responded, I was actually thinking this could all lead to a disaster, or O'Russell would come up with some clever way out of this situation. It was a cop-out, only one that didn't bother me too much due to reasons cited above.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 11:48 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
patrick wrote:
I hate to defend the film with how not-great it is but the fake sheik did say he knew a few other phrases in Arabic too on the plane.

It's your fault for not paying attention...possibly the theater's fault if the volume was too low but not the movie's fault.

Knowing a few other phrases and responding competently (if you can call it that) to a long series of sentences from a mob boss are two wildly different things.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 12:11 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
Pedro wrote:
patrick wrote:
I hate to defend the film with how not-great it is but the fake sheik did say he knew a few other phrases in Arabic too on the plane.

It's your fault for not paying attention...possibly the theater's fault if the volume was too low but not the movie's fault.

Knowing a few other phrases and responding competently (if you can call it that) to a long series of sentences from a mob boss are two wildly different things.


I took it that the fake sheik picked a phrase he knew and prayed for the best.


Sat Jan 18, 2014 3:06 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
Patrick's got it. The gag is that he picked from one of the phrases he did know and it was just general enough to work. At no point in the scene (or the movie) did he say anything or respond to anything in a way that required a level of fluency higher than what he's supposed to have.

Ooh, BONESAW WAS READY.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 4:16 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
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A couple of other doesn't mean he speaks Arabic with the fluency with which he does in the actual scene.


Yeah it does. The words the fake sheik ends up using are general sentences he knew he may have to use. It makes sense. Hustle only has problems if one tries to see it as being more than what it is. It's not the most ambitious movie; just a really fun character dramedy. Interesting moral dilemmas, great music, great performances.


Sat Jan 18, 2014 6:25 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
I don't remember him saying "a couple of other phrases," but I'll take people's word for it. The scene still stinks though. If I had a business deal with my wife's family friend who spoke Russian to me for 45 seconds and I stared at him with a look of blank incomprehension in my eyes and then stammered out "I'm glad we had this conversation," I think my complicated scheme might unravel.

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Sat Jan 18, 2014 10:18 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
JamesKunz wrote:
I don't remember him saying "a couple of other phrases," but I'll take people's word for it. The scene still stinks though. If I had a business deal with my wife's family friend who spoke Russian to me for 45 seconds and I stared at him with a look of blank incomprehension in my eyes and then stammered out "I'm glad we had this conversation," I think my complicated scheme might unravel.


It was entertaining.


Sun Jan 19, 2014 4:10 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
They had no way of knowing that the mobster spoke the language, and they had no way of knowing that their guy would be able to bust out a phrase that was good enough to slide on by. It's contrivance, but it's a level of contrivance that is 100% permissible in the moment.

When a certainty is resolved by an improbability, you have bullshit. But here you have an improbability being resolved by another improbability. That's not bullshit. It's irony.

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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
JamesKunz wrote:
I don't remember him saying "a couple of other phrases," but I'll take people's word for it. The scene still stinks though. If I had a business deal with my wife's family friend who spoke Russian to me for 45 seconds and I stared at him with a look of blank incomprehension in my eyes and then stammered out "I'm glad we had this conversation," I think my complicated scheme might unravel.

[Reveal] Spoiler:
But their complicated scheme did unravel. Didn't it? They made it out of that room alive, but they never actually got the mobster to buy into their scheme. For a while the movie wanted you to think they did, and so for that time the scene seemed like more of a problem. But after the final twist, you realize that the mobster probably went home and said "OK, yeah, no way I'm doing business with those amateurs," which feels about right.

I'm inclined to agree with those who think American Hustle is good-not-great, with some great performances. And it is a bit of a mess, but I took this scene the way Patrick did, and thought it more or less worked the way they intended it to. It gives you just enough reason to believe in the moment that maybe the mobster would call them back, which sets you up for the final twist.


Sun Jan 19, 2014 8:07 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
I understood it the way Patrick did. The fake sheik was just responding with a canned phrase and got lucky.

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Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:02 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
Syd Henderson wrote:
I understood it the way Patrick did. The fake sheik was just responding with a canned phrase and got lucky.


...even if so, what a lucky break! And I still don't get how no one mentions it ever again despite it being incredibly suspicious seeming

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Fri Jan 24, 2014 11:31 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
I remember being pretty jarred by that scene, but it passed by fast and was surrounded by so much Jennifer Lawrence-ness that it didn't stay on my mind when the film ended.


Sat Jan 25, 2014 12:00 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
And boom! Slate has my back in a big way!

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/cult ... _year.html

HT: Pete

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Mon Jan 27, 2014 11:17 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
I saw that piece earlier and my reaction was that it's kindergarten compared to the stuff people dash off here on a regular basis.

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:31 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
JamesKunz wrote:
And boom! Slate has my back in a big way!

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/cult ... _year.html

HT: Pete



More than Slate , you mean Willa Paskin and I wouldn't want my back being had in a movies forum by mainly a TV critic writer ;-) (In fact, I tried to find another movie reviewed by her unsuccessful, only TV shows)

She hardly provide examples but mainly comparison with other films in a desperately attempt to bring some laughs and entertain rather than illustrate her point

Like it or not, I respect more, the way to criticize a film by mainly bringing examples from the movie itself as done by Richard Roeper (a recognized movie critic)

or what about a 4 stars review by Christy Lemire (A truly and dedicated Film critic)

Seriously. Who would you prefer to have your back in a film criticism discussion?

Richard Roeper and Christy Lemire? or Willa Paskin?

I personally loved the way that Russell directed this film by going with the characters over the story. He cast very well his actors and then help them thrive (rather than over -directing and obfuscating their inspiration as he used to do before The Fighter) and the film narrative flows to impress even TV and film screenwriters as Mark Hughes

I have not watched "12 years a slave" yet but at this point "Gravity" and "American Hustle" are the best movies that I saw last year .

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:26 am
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
Ken wrote:
I saw that piece earlier and my reaction was that it's kindergarten compared to the stuff people dash off here on a regular basis.


I could be wrong, but I don't remember anyone here making the point about how incredibly safe the ending is, and how it's passed off as happy when in reality it would be anything but for the characters this movie spent the last 2 hours exploring. Contrast it with the end of Goodfellas and you'll see what she means. There's never even a slight acknowledgement that, hey, these people probably hate living like this. At best, it's poorly handled. At worst, it's a complete betrayal of the characters - the only thing the movie is really about anyway.

unwindfilms wrote:
She hardly provide examples but mainly comparison with other films in a desperately attempt to bring some laughs and entertain rather than illustrate her point


Let's see, she talked about the overly showy performances, the screenplay (or lack thereof), and specifically analyzed the entire ending of the film. She also brought up the film's period detail to make the point that Russell's indulgence in that (and the characters) is one of the film's major issues. You might not agree with her on any of these points, but to paint this article the way you have is inaccurate. You liked the movie a lot. Great. There's just no need to dismiss valid criticisms because you do. I think you might need to reread the article with a less biased mind.

At the end of the day, I think the movie operates more on a meta level than anything. I don't think it's so much about characters as I think it's about movie stars dressing up and doing things in front of a camera. I think that's why it opens on the instantly recognizable Christian Bale looking very un-Bale like, and a big reason why the movie is mostly about yanking these "characters" in as many different directions as possible. It makes for a fun movie, but I don't think Russell even tries to do anything with the concept other than have some fun. It's a movie that works for what it is, but there seems to be some opportunity for satire or commentary that was very much missed. As it is, it's much too lightweight (thematically, there are tons of comedies that aren't lightweight) and imperfect to be considered great. There's just actors doing things in front of a camera, characters being taken to great extremes. None of that connects to anything other than itself, which isn't bad, but isn't enough to make anything resembling a point.

The article calls it flashy and empty, and I agree completely. It isn't the worst BP nominee (it's certainly better than Dallas Buyers Club), but in an ideal world it wouldn't even be a nominee.


Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:11 pm
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Post Re: One Scene That Demonstrates American Hustle's Problems
PeachyPete wrote:
I could be wrong, but I don't remember anyone here making the point about how incredibly safe the ending is, and how it's passed off as happy when in reality it would be anything but for the characters this movie spent the last 2 hours exploring. Contrast it with the end of Goodfellas and you'll see what she means.

The good guys lost almost all of their pilots in what amounts to a minor military victory, they fail to kill the enemy's second-in-command even though he was one of the last surviving combatants on the battlefield, and the incredibly small organization of ill-equipped insurgents is going to lose a lot more of its people under the thumb of an oppressive dictatorship, which realistically involves them being sequestered away in wastelands for years while their children starve and their women are widowed... and we're supposed to forget all that misery just because Luke Skywalker gets a medal at the end?

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Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:52 pm
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