Sunday, 2 February 2014

American Hustle

I have to be honest - I didn't even read any reviews of this film. The title itself could have been designed to switch my "off" button. Then a newspaper article about Congress mentioned that the film was set around a congressional scandal called "Abscam", suddenly I was interested. For my whips study, one of the challenges for 'whips' that I identified was scandal - in their pastoral role whips have to deal with the aftermath of scandal, and a number have involved certain whips themselves. Abscam was important for my studies because it created a major problem for the institution of Congress - with the first expulsion of a member for a very long time; and a number of members going to jail. Some of the characters had been members of the whips organizations. My current work into the 94th Congress also involved members of that Congress' freshman group. I had to go and watch the film!

I went on Friday (after watching "12 Years a Slave" a film I will discuss in a forthcoming post). I thoroughly recommend "American Hustle". It was a satisfying film on a number of levels.

There are some super "comedy" moments in this film. "Comedy" is probably my favourite genre - and this is an entertaining film. Secondly, I like the soundtrack. I'm a big Duke Ellington fan, and homage was made to him. As a teenager in the late seventies the "contemporary" music in the film was of my era. (I've bought the soundtrack!)

On a deeper level this was a film about the psychology of individuals attempting to manipulate others. An understanding of behaviour is essential for both politics and law - and while there is more in this "review" for my Law Students - on that ground alone law and politics students should pay careful attention to this film.

At an even deeper level this film is about the abuse of power. As Acton said - "Power tends to corrupt...absolute power corrupts absolutely". This is a story of corruption and abuse of power. The people ensnared in this sting operation, may not have even regarded themselves as corrupt. They (at least the politicians involved) may have considered that they were helping their constituents - that the money involved was necessary to ensure that they could continue helping their constituents (running for office was costly then - it is even more so then - and without election or re-election you can do little). But it was corrupt - and the message I stress to my law students - and to anyone else who will listen - is that the human mind is very good at persuading itself that what is in the interests of the individual is also in the best interests of everyone else. Blindness towards one's own wrongdoing is horrifyingly widespread. The "expenses scandal" at Westminster proved that. I was working there during the period of revelations - and spoke to people who just couldn't understand that what they had done - which seemed reasonable and justified to them - was seen by everyone else as outrageous.

The film also raises the issue of "entrapment". Would the people convicted have committed the crimes - if they hadn't been invited and encouraged to do so by undercover law enforcement officers? The whole issue of entrapment is something for law students to reflect upon. I remember looking at the issue while I was studying for my law degree - and the issue is rarely far from the news (even this week the UK news has involved the activities of undercover police officers and there role in the "crimes" of groups they infiltrated).

So - well worth the price of a cinema ticket. Of course, I wanted to get a bit more background - so consulted contemporary reports of the scandal (a reason why I'm so pleased that I was persuaded to subscribe to the New York Times (digital), which gives access to that paper's archives). I also bought and have almost finished "The Sting Man: The True Story Behind the Film American Hustle" by Robert W Greene. I read it using the Kindle App on my iPad - but saw it was on sale this morning at the Waterstones bookshop in Midsummer Place, Milton Keynes.

Of course the film has taken some liberties. Characters are merged - and the character's names have been changed, but as I think I'll be going back to see it again.