Three of the most popular “holiday” films share common cause.
In American Hustle, a corrupt FBI agent recruits a corrupt businessman to go after corrupt politicians in a mind-numbing series of acts of betrayal, greed, and lust.
In the Wolf of Wall Street, a corrupt stockbroker enlists his equally corrupt buddies to swindle honest people in order to fuel his company’s depraved, drug-fueled lifestyle.
In Inside Llewyn Davis, a selfish, dead-beat, second-string folk singer meanders around Greenwich Village accomplishing not much of anything other than letting down anyone who cares anything about him.
Each film trumpets the return of the anti-hero.
Nothing signals a shift in popular culture more than the return of one the most time-worn tropes of Western cinema.
The anti-hero is not to be confused with the lead character we love to hate, like the sleazy Gordon Gekko played by hair-slicked-back Michael Douglas in Wall Street (1987). Nor is an anti-hero the noble character with deep flaws such as Llewelyn Moss, the day-old beard, enigmatic welder (Josh Brolin) who runs off with the cartel’s cash in No Country for Old Men. Anti-heroes are not flawed, they are both intentionally amoral and the camera wants us to root for them anyway.