Directed by: David O. Russell
Produced by: Charles Roven
Screenplay by: Eric Warren Singer
David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cinematography by: Linus Sandgren
Editing by: Jay Cassidy
Studio(s): Atlas Entertainment
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date(s): December 20, 2013 (United States)
January 1, 2014 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 138 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $40 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $173, 887, 372
Okay so, I'm on the last leg for my reviewing movies this year. I have about four or five movies left to see, so expect a look in on Stoker, Trance, In The House, Gangster Squad and The Wolf Of Wall Street before the reviews are out. Only one of those I have to see in the cinema, because last night I went to see 12 Years A Slave. Now, normally I don't do teasers for other films before they're reviewed, but I have to say that I was thoroughly shell-shocked by the whole experience. So, with that being said, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!
Today's film up for review is American Hustle, one of the three major players in the year's awards season, alongside Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. It has received ten Oscar nominations, bagged three Golden Globes and is the third straight film for David O. Russell (after The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) to garner his a nomination for Best Director. Although all of those films feature ensemble casts, American Hustle (aside from Three Kings) is largest movie to date. Plot synopsis here: it's 1978, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), two con artists in a relationship, both working and personal, are infiltrated and caught in the act of scamming by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who proposes that in order for the charges to be dropped if the provide four additional arrests, one of which is Mayor of New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), and in the midst of all this is the wild card of Irving's unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), whose very being has the potential to threaten the whole plot to go up in smoke. A two-hour twenty-minute film synopsis in one sentence, not bad if I do say so myself!
Starting with the good, this is one terrific ensemble cast. Christian Bale has done another one of his amazing transformations, and is never any less than legitimate as Rosenfeld. Notwithstanding the weight that he's put on, but the whole posture and the way he moves suggests a highly unfit man who's a walking heart attack waiting to happen. He's able to do comedy and drama in equal measure, proving himself to be one of the great screen chameleons. Speaking of shape-shifting, Amy Adams' performance is a fine bit of work, with her movements between the tones of 'Lady Edith Greensley' and Sydney note-perfect. Interestingly, Cooper, who usually portrays relatively normal people, is great as a federal agent who is pitched somewhere between a determined hard-worker and an overly obsessive fetishist. Speaking of normal people, America's recently adopted sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence is an absolute firecracker as Rosalyn. A force of nature to say the least, the power emerging for the character's pores gives weight to the idea that she could not only be very controlling but potentially destructive. Finally, with these characters with so many different sides and motivations, it's nice to see that Jeremy Renner does a fine job with Carmine Polito, just presenting him then and there as just an outright nice fellow who's just unlucky to be stuck dealing with this lot of vagabonds and screw-ups. Not only are the characters portrayed well by the actors, but on paper they are written splendidly by David O. Russell. As mentioned, the primary characters all have more than one side to their story, each fully developed and beyond the caricatures that you might expect from a movie of this nature. They are all flawed people with their own neuroses and extra little motivational drives that keep them moving. Furthermore, one of the more intelligent things that Russell does is that with the characters and their three-dimensionality he explores the boundaries of reality and fiction, artifice and sincerity. The lines are very blurred between who's being honest and who's the liar, and for a lot of the film you genuinely uncertain of the roles played in the con or cons, as in who are the manipulators and who is being manipulated. This theme is played across much of the film in numerous ways, from Adams' accent(s) to the film's opening, which consists of us watching the elaborate process of Bale's Rosenfeld maintaining his combover. Also, from a mise-en-scene standpoint, the film looks fine. Not only does it manage to capture something of the essence of the period and the level of glitz and glam involved in the life of successful con artists, but there is also once again the artifice and this sense of an exaggerated hyperreality to the look of the whole thing. The wigs are absurdly large, while the costumes have this very showy 'look at me!' sheen about them, with their colours almost primary in their palette. Finally, what David O. Russell does here as a director is much in the vein of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, who in turn owes a debt to the filmmography of the late Robert Altman, whose work with ensemble casts became a style in and of itself. It's tough to pull off this kind of movie, and I think from a directorial standpoint Russell mostly succeeds.
However, while I think that American Hustle is a very good movie and highly entertaining in it's best moments, it does have a number of problems which deny it of being the heights that it's so clearly trying to aspire to. The first issue involves an aspect of Russell's script, being that while he has created some really terrific characters on paper, the plot seems to be underprivileged where the characters are overcompensated. While I wouldn't say that either aspect has revolve around one another, there are at least has to be a certain synthesis and cohesion in the way the two interact. The plot here is nothing new in any real shape or form, coming across as murder-by-numbers and not having enough to make itself stand out from the rest of the pack, and ultimately the denouement doesn't have the payoff that I think would befit the characters. It's not a case of sour grapes that I didn't get the ending I wanted, I mean, there's plenty of times I've seen a movie or read a book where it isn't the ending I wanted, but I can acknowledge it as appropriate for the story and characters, and here it wasn't the case. Also, while it was a pleasure to hear Donna Summer's I Feel Love and America's A Horse With No Name in the cinema, I think that there was too much concern on the Tarantino-esque soundtrack. Danny Elfman's score is fine, but I think there is too much of a concern of silly slow-motion 'cool' shots of people walking alongside one another to the sound of some rock track from the 1970s, having none of the transcendence of the likes of the use of Jessie's Girl for that near minute long-shot of Mark Wahlberg's face in Boogie Nights or Lou Reed's Perfect Day during Renton's overdose in Trainspotting. Here, we go to far down the rabbit hole, and we come out here with too much inane gimmickry that does nothing for the movie.
While I do have my reservations about the picture, which does have some inane gimmickry that serves no good purpose apart from trying to be cool and that the plotting itself is deprived of both genuine originality and a satisfactory conclusion, American Hustle is still a pretty good film. There are five terrific performances from Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence and Renner, something most movies can't boast, and while Russell's plot isn't up to scratch, he has written some great characters on paper here. Also, his exploration of the relationship between artifice and reality is probably the most interesting aspect of the movie, not only mirroring the relationship between an audience and the movie, but leading to some genuinely blurred lines as to the roles played in the film's con(s). This is played with in the film's mise-en-scene which, while appropriate to the film's period have a sense of hyperreality to them. Finally, while David O. Russell's script ain't perfect, he does a good job as a director in pulling off this film. When you look at how messy films like The Great Gatsby are, this at least shows us how it can be done in an entertaining fashion.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.9/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (Steppenwolf's The Pusher just came on)