Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hey! We Saw a Movie! - American Hustle

We continue our journey through Oscar Bait season with a look at American Hustle. Be forewarned, there are some spoilers as...

Some of this actually happened.  

Toaster's Contribution - What can I say? The acting was great all around, the direction was superb, the scenes were executed well and the dialogue was well written. Yet, I was a little under-whelmed. I expected more and I’m not sure why. I think I was expecting the movie to be more violent, like a gangster movie, as opposed to simply being a film about con artists. I blame part of this on the trailer, which highlighted a brief flashback of a mob boss shooting a guy amidst clips that created a sense of growing tension not unlike a time-bomb about to explode.

Like I said, the acting was top notch with an impressive cast. (By the way, Shea Whigham and Jack Huston, the actors who play Eli Thompson and Mr. Harrow… in a movie pertaining to Atlantic City? It’s like a mini Boardwalk Empire reunion all up in here!) Christian Bale continues his march toward a Best Actor nomination with his transformation into a sleazy, balding, overweight confidence man. He would have walked away with the film had Jennifer Lawrence not decided to show that her Best Actress Oscar from last year was no fluke. She tended to command the attention of every scene she was in with her ditzy yet vulnerable performance.

It seems only a matter of time until Amy Adams earns an Academy Award of her own. Appearing in David O. Russell films is only going to increase those odds. Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner defied their usual genres of comedy and action. Jonny and I were also delighted to see Louis CK as Cooper’s supervisor. I had no complaints with the cast whatsoever. The setting was also captured perfectly with an amazing soundtrack and little details such as Cooper’s ‘permed’ hair and Bale’s tinted glasses; all without feeling like a feature length episode of That 70’s Show.

Perhaps the best way for me to look at American Hustle is that it’s more like a character study. It is the characters, after all, that really drive the film. I see two themes at work… the duality of identity and the concept of doing whatever it takes to survive. Bale’s character uses the idea of survival as justification for his swindling. Thus he dresses classy, elaborately covers up his bald-spot, cheats on his wife and tries to convey that he is someone else to the world. Yet, he is a good father to the son he adopted from his wife. Amy Adams has created an entire persona to survive, down to a foreign accent. She isn’t afraid to hide her loyal nature in order to use her sexuality as an asset. Cooper’s character comes across as an ambitious FBI agent determined to bring down government corruption, but is really willing to throw others under the bus just to make a name for himself. Renner’s character seems like a genuine good guy and family man, but knowingly associates with seedy businessmen and casino-owning gangsters… and seems surprised when this leads him to trouble. Is it that he is good and na├»ve or do his actions represent a need to survive by getting voter approval by any means necessary? Interestingly, Lawrence’s character may be a lot smarter than she lets on. In the idea of survival, perhaps her ditzy persona is, to at least a certain extent, a guise to provide her and her son a cushy life without having to work or struggle. Her unhappiness may well be genuine, as some of her ‘dumb’ antics scream out for attention from her husband. When it becomes obvious that her marriage is over, she quickly moves on to another, more affectionate provider to keep sustaining her lifestyle. 

I guess part of my trouble with American Hustle was that it seemed to suffer an identity crisis of sorts. Was it a crime drama, a tepid gangster film or a black comedy? At times the movie came across as serious as sin and other times it was full of humor. While the plot was clever, everything seemed to wrap up a little too neatly. In the end, American Hustle felt like a more plausible version of Now You See Me.

American Hustle wasn’t a bad movie. Maybe my expectations were too high. I think the hype behind the film was especially damning; with words like ‘masterpiece’ thrown around, I expected something bigger.

Jonny's Contribution - Its weird seeing Batman as balding fat man. I love Bradley Cooper's hair in this film.  I too would have a white guy perm... or better yet a white guy afro, but my treacherous hair betrayed my head long ago. I would bring the sexy back to white guy 'fros. God I love 70's New York (back before stupid Giuliani ruined it), but where were the Warriors or the Baseball Furies?  I also would have accepted their taxi driver being Travis Bickle... come on! They had De Niro anyways! How hard would it have been? Damn you, Guiliani!

(at this point Jonny had to be given a "tranquilizer break")

 Amy Adams is wonderful as always. I'm now in love with Jennifer Lawrence. American Hustle reminds me of the Orson Welle's documentary F is for Fake and other great films like Casino, Goodfellas and Apocalypse Now. Okay, American Hustle doesn't really remind me of Apocalypse Now, I just really like that movie. I am sure American Hustle will win some awards.

Up next, we review a massive flop! Until then, Stay Strange!

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