Tuesday, December 31, 2013

American Hustle

By Sati. Tuesday, December 31, 2013 , , , , , , , ,
American Hustle, David O. Russell's follow up to hugely successful Silver Linings Playbook is an entertaining mess. It has moments of brilliance, moments of artistic confusion, scenes that are lovely and scenes that are completely misguided. While the cast is excellent, I'm only convinced of the greatness of one performance. Fortunately for the film, this ensemble's efforts are enough to entertain.

The film opens with brilliant line - 'some of this actually happened'. With the flood of 'based on true story' movies this was very refreshing way to open the film. The movie follows two con artist - Irving (fantastic Christian Bale) and his lover Sydney (Amy Adams, trying her best but failing). When they get busted during the con an ambitious an unstable agent Richie DiMaso (hilarious Bradley Cooper) offers them a deal - they help him con some political hot shots and they can walk away. He gets big arrests and fame, they are off the hook.
The film feels like Scorsese flick wannabe. Goodfellas and Casino vibes are all over it - quick cuts of people getting shot, fiery, unpredictable, sexy women, criminals, casinos, gambling, danger. O. Russell is not Scorsese, though. The film's biggest and occasionally fatal flaw is its wobbly script. According to Christian Bale much of the movie was improvised. He noted to O. Russell, "You realize that this is going to change the plot greatly down track." To which the director replied, "Christian, I hate plots. I am all about characters, that's it."

Yes, well all of that is well but O. Russell's movie is completely deprived of backbone - credible, coherent story. American Hustle is a shaky construction, a house of cards ready to fall at any moment. It's a crime/con movie where cons are unbelievable and the big 'so that's how they did it!' reveals are deprived of impact because of dumb writing and inept direction.
What the movie works as, though, is light entertainment. I wouldn't call Hustle a comedy - there are several moments during which I laughed, but I laughed more during Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. The film at least is never boring, it has some lovely sequences - best of which are the ones with Jennifer Lawrence's character wrecking havoc - and it sure is fun to watch.

While the film is ridden with puzzling decisions, some of them are so daring they really deserve praise - from Rosalyn, Irving's wife (Lawrence, fun but very overrated) kissing Sydney in the bathroom (which was apparently Adams's idea), Sydney screaming while sitting in the dirty toilet of the nightclub and unexpected Robert De Niro cameo, Hustle certainly provides moments that surprise you.

What makes Hustle a good movie is its fantastic ensemble - we have some very skilled actors making appearances, for example Jack Huston of Boardwalk Empire fame, as Rosalyn's new savior. Then we have the real show stoppers - Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K. easily steal their scenes as goodhearted mayor and frightened FBI chief respectively. C.K.'s scenes are a laugh riot and also mark the heights of Bradley Cooper's performance.

What didn't quite work were the ladies - I'm stunned Lawrence and Adams are getting any Oscar buzz for their work in this movie. They are both good, thanks to their talent, but they are also miscast and the script isn't giving them enough to flesh out their characters.
Jennifer Lawrence is a good actresses. That said, she is also the most ridiculously overhyped movie star right now. The craze about her, which is even getting to director's heads, is actually starting to hurt her films - David O. Russell wrote the part of Rosalyn specifically for her to play. She is all kinds of wrong for the part - she is too young to be believable as Irving's wife. The fact that she also has a son only adds to how ridiculous that casting is.

Lawrence is good when the script is good - her recklessness provides few laughs and her scene with Jack Huston where she talks about hating change is fantastic. But there are also moments that are so bad it's literally embarrassing to watch - like awful scene where Rosalyn sings Live and Let Die. Really? She's getting awards for a performance that contains this scene?
While Adams is given more consistent scenes than Lawrence, she is not doing any better. I didn't buy her as this smart girl who uses her sexuality and wits to survive. There was something awfully fake about Adams's performance - even when Sydney was giving us glimpse of her true self, it all rang false. I don't mind Adams not wearing a bra of her bad accent - the worst crime here is how ill suited she is for the part.

Bradley Cooper on the other hand is very good as Richie - he makes him believable, he fits the part and he makes it all feel real in spite of hilariously awful hair. Richie is such a fun character - eating chicken alone in the bathroom, having a fiancee he doesn't even acknowledge, beating up his boss and really wanting to fuck Sydney. It's all so ludicrous but Cooper makes it work.
But the real star of the show and the biggest reason why this film is worth watching is Christian Bale. I've seen most of this guy's performances and it's his work like here as Irving - someone quiet, someone broken - that flourishes into Bale's best performances. He is a true heart of this whole thing - someone who wants to do the right thing, doesn't want good people to get hurt and ideally, keep the woman he loves in his life.

The love story between Irving and Sydney is the centre of the movie. There are some lovely scenes here - them kissing among abandoned clothes and later in the movie Irving standing there alone, remembering the moment. Unfortunately for the film, Adams has much better chemistry with Cooper than she does with Bale. I suppose I should be praising her for having the chemistry with anyone, though, after whatever the fuck that was in Man of Steel.

American Hustle probably won't end up in my top 10 of the year but I'll be very surprised if Bale doesn't make my line up. In spite of the film being entertaining it did feel like a let down.

There is plenty to like in the film - silly wigs, lovely cinematography, witty one liners and great soundtrack. If only Russell was more of a writer, more of a director and less of a fanboy and imitator, this could have been so much better.

(American Hustle, dir. David O. Russell, USA, 2013, 138 min)
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34 comments:

  1. Nice review! I'm going to be seeing this soon. From the clips I watched online I have a feeling I'll share your sentiments about Lawrence, O'Russells obsession with her, and Adams.
    Happy New Years Margaret!

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  2. Everybody is so on-point that it's almost too hard to not have a good time and at least enjoy the ride. As messy as that ride may have been. Good review Sati.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah it's a mess, but a fun one :)

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  3. I am glad you have the guts to say what you feel about Jennifer Lawrence in this movie, Sati. I think she can be very good but I also think she can be overrated. Christian Bale is so good, I am not surprised he's your favorite performance in the movie. Thank you for your reviews. I enjoy your blog!

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, Lawrence craze is getting a bit out of hand, I think.

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  4. I really liked the film. Yeah, it's a mess but a fun one. I really think Jeremy Renner is underrated in this film as the guy who is being duped yet he's the one that turns out to be the most noble which adds to the conflict that Irving is dealing with.

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    1. Renner was fantastic, my third fav in the cast after Bale and Cooper.

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  5. Great review, and those graphics looks fabulous! I liked the film a bit more than you did, especially when it came to Adams. I thought she was great. I have to agree 100% about Jennifer Lawrence being a little overrated at the moment. And this is coming from someone that loves her.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, it's like they are grooming her to be next Meryl Streep, which is a tad ridiculous.

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  6. This film is full of big hair & big acting. It's an enjoyable ride to a point, it's too long & my mind wandered at various points. I find this with O Russell films, I enjoy them to about 75% of the film then they nose dive.

    Lawrence is a very good actress but tends to play characters (in O Russell films) who really are older than what she is. She certainly gives it her best & does well but fear she needs to rein in the over acting a little.

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    1. Yeah I felt it was bit long too, certain sequences went on for a bit too long at times.

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  7. I think you hit the nail on the head with this one! (Even though I loved Jennifer Lawrence in it.) Christian Bale was amazing, but the backbone was missing. I got serious Casino vibes as well. A very poor imitation, but definitely a pretty one.

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    1. Thanks! Yep, it did feel a lot like Casino imitation.

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  8. Excellent review! Beautifully written, as always, and balanced. I will probably watch this eventually, but I am in no particular hurry.

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    1. Thank you! It's enjoyable but nothing too memorable.

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  9. Oh I love that main title graphic for the post, lovely! Glad you still enjoyed this despite some quibbles. I actually like the Live & Let Die scene, and Adams was surprisingly convincing though she may not be the natural choice for the role. In any case I agree about what you said about Bale, he's the heart of the film and his friendship w/ Renner's character is quite compelling.

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    1. Thank you! I'm honestly just allergic to Lawrence, her insane fanbase and her PR efforts, I'm gonna be skipping her next films.

      LOVED Bale in this.

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  10. Great review! I have yet to see this (hopefully soon). Bale's performance was the one I was looking forward to; based on your review I think I wouldn't be disappointed. I agree with you on Jennifer Lawrence being overhyped these days; I hope she doesn't reach her peak soon, she's a good actress.

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    1. Thank you! If you are looking forward to Bale's work, I think you are going to love it.

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  11. Fine work Sati. I'm really anxious to this one but I keep hearing that it's less than perfect or as good as expected.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, it's better to lower your expectations before seeing this one :)

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  12. Great review Sati. This has only just opened here so I haven't had chance to see it but I'm really looking forward to it. Many of the reviews suggest I should probably temper my expectations a little though.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, that's a good idea, it's a fun movie but for me it wasn't among the greatest of the year.

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  13. Really surprised you liked Hustle as much as you did, but you're right that the actors saved the film. Wobbly plot is right, but it's undeniably a fun film...wait till you see Wolf of Wall Street though!

    And while I'm a huge JLaw fan, I'm not quite understanding the hype surrounding her performance. Granted, she's definitely electric, and it's hard to take your eyes off her, but I wouldn't scream Oscar with what she did in this film.

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    1. I really hope I'll get to see Wolf soon, it sounds like something I'd enjoy.

      Her overeager fanbots appear to be in the groups that actually award people. Way to devaluate awards further.

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  14. Great review! I agree, if you consider the film light entertainment, then I suppose it works. A few weeks have passed since I saw it, and for me, the only thing worth mentioning are the performances. The film as a whole never really grabbed me, but the players made it worth it.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah I'm kinda forgetting it already too.

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  15. I think I'm one of the only people on the planet that doesn't swoon over David O. Russell. I certainly respect the guy but not on the same level as many.

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    1. Yeah I don't get it either. I liked his last 3 movies, but he's not one of the greats for me.

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  16. Terrific review! Though it's a bit messy, it's very entertaining. Bale was wonderful, but Cooper gives my favorite performance. I'd love to see both actors get Oscar nods. I agree the women are miscast. Still, I think Adams made it work. Lawrence, on the other hand, didn't pull it off for me either.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, Lawrence was so out of place here.

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  17. Great review! I'm sad to say that I really wasn't as taken with this film as you were though. I feel like the lack of a solid script was a big mistake for this kind of narrative and the film suffered for it.

    I like that you acknowledge Lawrence's unsuitability. She seems out of her depth and is very clearly just playing up her public persona here, which is a shame because she is talented. Jeremy Renner was the best of the bunch for me and I'm so disappointed that he's getting no awards attention.

    By the way, I absolutely adore the graphics you have for each film you review, really beautiful stuff!

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    1. Thank you! I wouldn't say I was taken, I appreciate movies that don't bore me, so that's why I gave it a relatively high grade.

      Renner was truly fantastic, his scenes with Bale were the best in the movie.

      Thank you so much!

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