Burt Reynolds in Hustle (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1975).

Robert Aldrich, remember, brought us Kiss Me, Deadly, one of the strangest and finest American films of the fifties. His Hustle is two films in one: one a brooding neo-noir in the vein of Chinatown or Night Moves, pregnant with socio-political critique; the other a unwatchably inept abuse of the filmic medium, not even good enough to be a TV movie. And here's the sad part: the main flaw is in the direction. The cast is great--Burt Reynolds, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, Catherine Deneuve, Paul Winfield, Eddie Albert, Ernest Borgnine, even a young Robert Englund, of Nightmare on Elm Street fame--and frame by frame, it often has the look of one of those languorous seventies classics where the contempo casual decor and the seedy liquor store locations all bleed together into art. Steve Shagan's script is a little purple at times, but it's also full of potential. With the right editing and revision, it could have worked. But the pacing and general structure of the film overall is just off. It feels like a bad daytime soap. Occasionally the camera will swoop with unwarranted confidence, setting up a scene for some heavy moment of significance, bringing in landscape and architecture and urban atmosphere, and then--plop. It only works if you view it as unintentionally "experimental." There's a dream sequence with Ben Johnson, for example, where the superimposition and dissolves are so crazy it feels for a minute like you're watching Brakhage.

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