Monday, 3 February 2014

Are we all just hustlers?

I went to see American Hustle last night. Along with Gravity it leads the Oscar nominations (10) with 9 going to 12 Years a Slave. I am not entirely clear why. But it is still packing in the people several weeks after it release. At two and half hours long it is certainly gripping and apart from the fact that none the of the car parking meters outside the cinema were working (which gave me a small nodule of anxiety throughout), the time just slipped by. It tells an engrossing story: I really cared about the characters. Oddly, given the events, I had huge sympathy for the mayor but maybe that is because I am local politician too!

The acting is top notch and the late 70's setting, very well done. The art of the comb-over is fully explored as are dresses that appear to defy physics. But somehow, it did not quite pass muster. I guess I was hoping for a more elaborate and convoluted story that would leave me scratching my head for days, in the same way as The Usual Suspects did. But it did not and I was not surprised by the ending. So overall, not a film I would recommend for the cinema: but do see it when it comes to the small screen.

At one point in the movie, one of the characters says that everyone is a hustler, just trying to sell themselves, sell an idea or indeed sell a con. I left the cinema pondering on this. It is not a new idea: after all the world is but a stage, and we the players. Are we all engaged in subterfuge and merely acting to get our points across. Is this what leaders are good at? Are leaders not much more than hustlers of ideas: new objectives, new aims, new ways of working?

I think it all depends on how real we are to other people and indeed to ourselves. The character played by Jennifer Lawrence is achingly real, as you can see from the picture above. Her plaintive character plays it straight.

So I think this is the choice that leaders have: you can play it straight, real and authentic or not. If you choose not then you probably are a hustler and you may well succeed on many levels. But if you choose the path that can be raw, real, and vulnerable, you will need to keep an eye on yourself but you will not lose your ethical integrity.

How real are you?

... I cannot write this blog today without just recording my great sadness at the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a great actor. My thoughts are with his family and friends. 


This is the eleventh of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.


  1. Anne Bennett3/2/14 17:12

    I'll take your advice and see something else on the big screen... I like the themes in this blog - I would recommend (re)viewing 'Searching for Sugarman' (an Oscar-winning doco from last year - if you know nothing about it then avoid spoilers at all costs) - the central character has inspired my daughter with his embodiment of the opposite route in life - take nothing, win everything, transcend with your ethics - and in his case, be a gifted artist and prophet

  2. Anne Bennett3/2/14 17:19

    also - re Philip Seymour Hoffman - Xan Brooks and I had an interesting exchange today - I mentioned the leadership theme in context of wondering if inhabiting a role/being inhabited by it can lead to one's undoing if you are like poor Hoffman was - I found him in 'the Master' taking a haunting role of an unravelling substance abuser and then some! Xan said the following:
    - Impossible question. Interesting difference between J. Phoenix, who danced with his demons, and PSH who kept them on a leash;
    - Fascinating topic - Suspect great actors pour a bit of themselves into the vessel, with risk that it takes on a life of its own.
    I am reflecting that this may be a little like the journey of T Blair, whom I encountered (pre-Iraq) as an authentic person at least striving for integrity, and then......
    So hustling?dancing with demons?controlling them?playing it straight....discuss!! ;-)