Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Counselor vs. American Hustle, two big, bad, beautiful films about corruption and money in America.
PremiseThe trailers for highly anticipated crime dramas The Counselor and American Hustle give away little in terms of plot, relying instead on visual appeal, killer casts, and the clout of their directors (not that we’re complaining). So for premise, we’re going mainly off of vague IMDb plot descriptions and other online hearsay. The Counselor tells the story of a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who finds himself “in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.” Judging by the gargantuan rock Fassbender places on her finger in the opening moments, Penélope Cruz plays his fiancée. Her back tattoos suggest that Cameron Diaz is likely on the wrong side of the law. Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem may or may not play drug lords. Guns, sexy pool scenes, and gangster violence ensue. The trailer for American Hustle is similarly uninformative, however the online powers that be seem to know a fair bit more about the fictional film, which is loosely based on the famous FBI Abscam operation. Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his mistress/partner in crime, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), unwillingly join forces with the FBI to take down the Mafia in 1970s Jersey. Rosenfeld is married to volatile beauty Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who is unlikely to stand idly by as her husband canoodles with his partner at the dry cleaners. While drug trafficking is always alluring, we’ve got to give this one to the take down of the Mafia in the ’70s. Did we mention there’s also political corruption?Advantage: American Hustle
CastComparing the casts of The Counselor and American Hustle is like an unfaithful husband comparing his gorgeous, mature, loving wife to the sexy, younger lover he picked up in a hotel lobby while traveling “on business.” In this analogy, the star-studded cast of The Counselor is the loving wife. Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem… They’ve been around for a while. Sometimes they blow our minds (Bardem in No Country for Old Men); sometimes they mercilessly disappoint us (Diaz in The Green Hornet, Knight and Day, The Box… she hasn’t made a good movie in a while) but we made vows to always love them. That said, Fassbender, an actor in his prime known for choosing good projects, is the wife’s midlife boob job. That leaves American Hustle as the seductive mistress. Cooper, Adams, Lawrence, Renner… these actors are fresh and exciting. In real life we’d advocate for the wife, but in this case it’s younger lover all the way.Advantage: American Hustle
DirectorComparing The Counselor’s Ridley Scott, lord of the highly produced blockbuster epic, with American Hustle’s David O. Russell, master coaxer of badass performances, is a true apples-and-oranges situation. Scott’s directed a handful of the most iconic films of the past few decades (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), while Russell’s last two films, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, are likely to land on many a contemporary movie fan’s “favorites” list. Sure, Scott has successfully pulled off a crime and corruption drama (American Gangster), but we’ve really only seen a fraction of what Russell is capable of. We fear crowning a victor may illicit death threats from enraged movie fans, so we’ll leave this one up to personal preference.Advantage: Tie
Overall AestheticThese films are both aesthetic masterpieces, from what we can tell, and not just because of their genetically blessed cast members. The Counselor delights in its portrayal of the contemporary definition of excess: monstrous mansions, sleek automobiles, sparkly diamonds, a live cheetah; this film is sheer eye candy. Conversely, American Hustle conveys cheesy 1970s Mafia excess—bad perms, lamé dresses, gold everything—and really, what’s better than that? We’d give it to American Hustle based on amusingly bad hairdos alone.Advantage: American Hustle
Sex AppealBoth The Counselor and American Hustle star handsome leading men and scantily clad mega-babes. Let’s start with the fellas. The Counselor has Fassbender and Pitt, which is almost too much sheer male hotness for one movie. American Hustle has Bale and Cooper, but they both look pretty goofy with their 1970s hairstyles (comb-over and man-perm, respectively). As for the ladies, The Counselor boasts Cruz and Diaz, who, with their varying superior physical attributes, pretty much cover the spectrum of male preference and fantasy. Abundance of pool scenes are a plus. Sure, American Hustle has beautiful actresses Adams and Lawrence in sexy ’70s attire (there’s even crocheted swimwear involved!) but judging by the crying and the tantrums in the trailer montage, these beauties are unlikely to keep their composure. Advantage: The Counselor
VerdictThe Counselor and American Hustle are both must-sees for this year… But ties are boring, so we have to give it to American Hustle. (Insert arguments about Oscar potential and making way for a new crop of A-listers and top-tier directors here, as you see fit.)Winner: American Hustle
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.