Robert Aldrich’s somewhat muddled neo-noir character piece Hustle benefits from a strong cast headed by Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve and a director who knows his way around noir.
The Production: 3/5
After the smashing critical and commercial success of The Longest Yard, there was little surprise when director Robert Aldrich and star Burt Reynolds reteamed for their next project. Hustle, a nasty, nihilistic neo-noir, didn’t prove to be the smash of their earlier film together, but this winding, fractured crime tale has a few things going for it: a terrific cast from its stars to its bit players (some of whom would go on to be big stars in their own right in the years to come), a gritty glimpse of Los Angeles in the mid-70s, and some surprises on the Chinatown level that many won’t see coming.
When the body of teenager Gloria Hollinger (Sharon Kelly) is discovered on the beach, detectives Phil Gaines (Burt Reynolds) and Louis Belgrave (Paul Winfield) are stymied when the coroner declares her a drug overdose suicide, thus closing the cover on her case. Her grieving father Marty Hollinger (Ben Johnson), while being estranged from his daughter when her hard-partying ways led her to leave home, wants answers and is determined to get them despite running into various unsavory characters his daughter had connections with and getting roughed up along the way. The detectives’ boss Santoro (Ernest Borgnine) is aware that one of Gloria’s connections was to noted L.A. lawyer and mob fixer Leo Sellers (Eddie Albert) and cautions his detectives to steer clear of him, but Phil’s live-in lover, call girl Nicole Britton (Catherine Deneuve), is also tied to Sellers, a fact that Phil not only is aware of but is growing increasingly angry about.
Steve Shagan’s screenplay emphasizes the city as a place of haves and have-nots with the cops caught in the middle, some rolling with the punches and others fighting the system looking for justice and finding the decks stacked against them pretty frustratingly. Director Robert Aldrich’s fractured directing style likewise keeps the film’s momentum off kilter with lots of expository love scenes between the two beautiful stars (and one loo-loo of a spat which comes uncomfortably as close to rape as it’s possible to play) and occasional sequences with the detectives doing other, unrelated police work to the initial case (one of two action scenes in the movie features the kind of kinetic procedural thrill that might have been injected into the movie to give it some life and an escape from its tonal doldrums). While the film is more of a character piece than a crime movie (perhaps partially explaining why it wasn’t the big hit most were expecting), it does feature an ending most won’t see coming, a punch in the gut that will catch most sentimentalists decidedly unawares.
Burt Reynolds (without his mustache in this one) and Catherine Deneuve are unquestionably two of the beautiful people who struggle throughout the movie with reconciling their feelings with what each does for a living. The focus is far more on Reynolds as the detective who tempers his fury in most instances but which shockingly explodes on particular occasions. Deneuve does what she can with an underwritten and fairly uninteresting role as a high-class prostitute, but it’s clear the screenwriter and director are interested in social and political corruptions that don’t involve her profession. Paul Winfield is an able and supportive partner, but he, too, is not fleshed out in much detail in the screenplay. More interesting are the performances of the dead girl’s two parents played heartbreakingly by Ben Johnson and Eileen Brennan, both crushed to their souls by their loss but one looking for answers and the other fearful of what that information might mean for their survival. Eddie Albert, who had made a superb antagonist in Aldrich and Reynolds’ previous The Longest Yard, here plays the slick, smooth attorney unruffled by pressure or accusations, confident that his wealth and power can supersede any petty problems of his underlings. Ernest Borgnine is okay as the police captain who knows the score. But there is a wealth of great supporting players (and familiar faces) doing one and two-scene roles: Jack Carter as a sleazy strip club owner, David Spielberg as nutty serial killer Jerry Bellamy and Naomi Stevens as his hostage, Don ‘Red’ Barry as a bartender, Fred Willard as a police interrogator, and Robert Englund as a bandit.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Taken from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, the image is very detailed with rich, solid hues and a very film-like look. Around the 40-minute mark, two shots, however, appear to be zoomed resulting in increased grain, brazen color, and out-of-kilter framing before the picture goes back to normal. Has the film always looked this way? The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix has the audio design of many movies from the 1970s. Dialogue has been well-recorded and has been mixed with Frank De Vol’s spare score (and some songs of the era including “Yesterday When I Was Young” and the theme from A Man and a Woman) and the sound effects to make a strong central track. There are no problems with age-related hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.
Special Features: 3/5
Audio Commentary: film historians and Robert Aldrich experts Alain Silver and James Ursini provide an interesting and thought-provoking discussion of the film.
Theatrical Trailer (3:14, HD)
TV Spot Ads (3:46, HD): seven ads in a montage
Kino Trailers: Fuzz, Shamus, White Lightning, The Longest Yard, Gator.
Robert Aldrich’s somewhat muddled neo-noir character piece Hustle benefits from a strong cast headed by Burt Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve and a director who knows his way around noir even with a script that seems a bit unfocused and one not offering an action-hungry public what it most craved.
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