Sunday, October 9, 2016

Film Pairing — Year Of The Con

Seems as if 2016 is the “Year of the Con,” with the election and all these candidates for public office pretending to be honest and competent, if not pious and brilliant. Let me recommend two films that pick up on the theme though in slightly different ways.  The first is light jazz. The second is visceral.  The first will make you smile.  The second will make you wince. Both are blessed with extreme talent. Both garnered film awards and considerable critical acclaim.  Both are based on true stories. The odd observation here is that the actors are pretending to be someone pretending to be someone they are not. Only actors and politicians are allowed to do that.

 Catch Me If You Can — This is the moment, I think, we catch Leonardo DiCaprio make his transition from vulnerable child star to adult without missing a step as a highly talented actor.  Here he portrays Frank Abagnale, upon whose book and life, the film is based. Young Frank grows up admiring his father, a man who despite his talent as a loving parent couldn’t quite make it as a provider despite or because of his con artist ways.  Frank, who occasionally participated in his father’s antics and wanting to impress his dad, took con artistry to a new level of fraud. With fake identities, he scammed millions eventually attracting a bland but determined pursuer, played exquisitely by Tom Hanks. Rounding out the supersized cast are Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, James Brolin and Amy Adams.  The film, released in 2002, was directed by Steven Spielberg.

American Hustle — This is a considerably more down-to-earth film. While Catch Me If You Can has some serious undertones, it is a funny film. In American Hustle, the humor is there, certainly, but it is much, much darker.  Two con artists agree to scam an Arab sheik for a casino development in Atlantic City. An ambitious FBI agent catches on, and will throw them both in jail unless they help him bring down some dishonest politicians who would be caught with their hands in the till thereby helping the FBI agent make his bones at the Agency. If only humans didn’t have human failings. If only good was good and bad was bad and never the twain should met. Damn those gray areas. Damn that we should fall in love with stupid people who think they’re helping us but screw up our lives. Can’t I do a little wrong if the result is a greater good? Lots of questions. But answers?  Who is responsible for the answers?  Not the filmmakers. Based on the famous ABSCAM scandals of the ‘80s and directed by David O. Russell, the film was released in 2013. The gritty film is populated by incredibly fine actors giving fine performances at every level.  Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence and Louis CK are featured. Robert De Niro makes a brief but powerful appearance.

Something to quench your thirst while you watch a couple of hours of disingenuous behavior? Champagne for the first. Light and bubbly, but with an ultimately calming effect.  For the second, you’ll have to get serious. Bourbon with no more than two ice cubes.  Or do what I do these days — some ice, tonic water, and a twist of lime or lemon. No alcohol.  People will think gin and tonic and you’ve pulled of a little scam of your own.

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