American Hustle: A Review

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I found myself home alone recently and took the opportunity to catch a movie. I decided on catching up with the Oscar contenders. Because I really enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook, I chose American Hustle as it shared a director and several actors. The fact that my friend Karen recommended it didn’t hurt either.

Well the title says it all! This was a good film about a wild scam, a fictionalization of infamous Abscam, actually. Everyone seemed to be conning everyone else and I had no idea how things would resolve until the satisfying end. It was a good film, not a great film and I was surprised at all the Oscar hype. I usually enjoy a good grifter movie, especially if it is done in a film noir style.  American Hustle was not filmed with typical film noir elements. Rather it was done as a period piece, taking place in the 70’s, at the height of the polyester disco era. Which for some, would lend some nostalgic charm.

This was a film about 2 scam artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). This star-crossed pair was nabbed by an eager young FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). In lieu of jail time, the pair of hustlers were coerced into cooperating with DiMaso’s scheme to lure and then take down corrupt politicians, mobsters and other high rollers. Quelle surprise, things did not go according to plan and chaos ensued.

The soundtrack and costumes were spot on and transported me back in time. The acting was good, really, really good. The 3 main leads were transformed and convincing. Additionally, I enjoyed Louis C.K. as Bradley Cooper’s reluctant FBI supervisor. The poor man didn’t know where to look before he was reluctantly dragged into DiMaso’s plan. Jennifer Lawrence did a phenomenal job in a pivotal role that had surprising little screen time, as Bale’s volatile neglected wife.

There were comedic elements in this film (Christian Bale’s character’s ridiculous comb-over comes to mind) but they were far too few. The dialogue was witty at times. So why did I think this film was good and not great? I guess it was because there was very little character development, at least not enough for me to care about the fates of anybody. With a film focused on people doing despicable things, the onus is on the director (David O. Russell in this case) to persuade me to care about what happens to those people. Some times I don’t care but the laughs along the way or the clever plot twists are enough to wow me. Not in this film. It often boils down to relatability, which, granted, is entirely personal. Still glad I saw it and I would definitely watch it again. And I probably will, as I know my husband wants to see it. Who knows? I might have missed something and reserve the right to be wowed after a second viewing.

Awkward Quirky Romance: Silver Linings Playbook

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I went to the theatre to see this quirky romantic comedy. It was directed by David O. Russell and is about two abrasive characters with mental health issues. My husband and I really enjoyed it, but it isn’t a film for everyone. I am a fan of the main leads, Bradley Cooper (ever since he was Will on Alias) and Jennifer Lawrence (awesome in Winter’s Bone) and was impressed at their nuanced performances. In their portrayals of damaged characters, they are worthy of the Oscar nominations that they have received. Robert De Niro as Cooper’s dad is just icing on the cake.

Cooper plays Pat, a man who has just been released from an 8 month stint in a mental hospital into the care and supervision of his parents. He was hospitalized rather than jailed after he walked in on his wife and her lover went berserk and attacked the other guy. He is completely non compliant in his rehabilitation and still holds onto the hope of reconciliation. Shortly afyer his release, he meets his buddy’s recently widowed sister-in-law, Tiffany (Lawrence) and recognizes someone as off as he is. She manipulates him to help her out as a dance competition partner. From there we watch an interesting relationship and awkward dance routine develop.

Because the plot is pretty trite when reduced to it basic narrative, the strength of the movie hinges on the lead actors. A special shout out goes to Chris Tucker in a great supporting role as Danny, Pat’s institutionalized buddy. These characters are difficult people to like. Their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team is beyond my comprehession. However, if one has ever had to deal with someone close with serious mental health issues (it is surprising how many of us have), one knows how on the nose these nuanced performances are. I found them moving and at times, too close to home. I also enjoyed Jacki Weaver as Dolores, Pat’s mom and Pat. Sr.’s (De Niro) wife. Her silent expressions spoke volumes as she stood as go between for two irrational men in her life. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, I’m afraid.

This is a film about people I could not stand spending much time with on a day to day basis. They are difficult to get along with in their delusional obsessions and self destructive behaviours and besides, I can never get into sports that much. For this reason, this film may not have a broad appeal. So the fact that I really enjoyed it and found myself pulling for this couple is a conundrum that I haven’t yet been able to explain. This film is not free of Hollywood cliches that plague the romance genre. By the time I got to those moments, enough good will has been established to make them forgivable. If you like nuanced performances of damaged characters, awkward dance numbers, sports fanatics and/or quirky romances, you may want to check this one out.

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