The new trailer for David O. Russell's American Hustle makes us want to see the movie. It features great actors doing interesting things—seriously, we'd watch Jennifer Lawrence say nasty things and smoke a cigarette for ages. But we still have one major question: what on Earth is this movie about?
While not being explicitly mysterious, the American Hustle trailer strings together excerpts of monologues from Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner, all decked out in '70s gear and bewigged to high heaven, that tell you little about what happens. You get the sense that they are, well, hustlers in some way or another, but that much is in the title. The trailer sells the performances without actually explaining what the story those performances are in service of. Now watch the trailer and see if you can guess what this is all about.
Are they? A) Hairdressers, B) Porn stars, C) Con men. If you guessed C you would be mostly right. The film is based on the Abscam sting of the 1970s, in which the FBI teamed with a con man to help take down corrupt politicians. Did you get that from the trailer? No.
Now, we understand why the trailer is so vague. Abscam likely doesn't mean as much to people as it once did, and with that many movie stars in a movie, with that many hairstyles, you don't need to give audiences much more to get them into a theater. But this trailer, while completely watchable, is frustratingly vague. There's no indication that Cooper plays a federal agent or that Renner is a political operator. It's all artifice. Fantastic artifice, but artifice none the less.
Trailers, unless intentionally obscure, should be clear enough that audiences can leave with a good sense of what sets movie into action. American Hustle isn't the only guilty party here: take a look at the most recent The Secret Life of Walter Mitty trailer.
American Hustle is still the great unknown going into Oscar season, since pretty much no one has seen it yet. The pedigree is certainly there, we just hope the actual movie isn't as muddled as its trailers.