American Hustle (2014)

American Hustle (2014)

I like it when a director shows favouritism towards working with certain individuals. I really believe it brings the best out of the actors. Perhaps one of the most notorious directors for this is Quentin Tarantino, who makes no great secret of the fact that he favours using Samuel L. Jackson at every opportunity, as well as Uma Thurman and Christoph Waltz when the opportunities arise. Another pairing that’s recently come to light is Neil Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley who will soon embark on their third outing together. So, when I saw the billing for David O. Russell‘s American Hustle, I won’t lie; I was excited. He’s seemingly done a great job of welding together the casts of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook to deliver his latest outing. How does Russell‘s Frankenstein’s Monster turn out though?

American Hustle (2014)

The cast of American Hustle is like a glorious chef’s recipe: 2 parts The Fighter (Christian Bale and Amy Adams), stirred with 2 parts Silver Linings Playbook (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), folded in with new turns from Jeremy Renner and a host of others. What’s delivered? A delicious slice of 1970’s Americana revolving around blagging, conning and a whole host of escalating events. To break it down, Irving (Christian Bale) is a con-artist – small time – but a con-artist all the same. He takes this up a notch when he falls for Sydney (Amy Adams), who completes his criminal duo perfectly. The first problem? Sydney isn’t his wife. Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) is his wife. The second problem? Well, don’t try and con an undercover FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), as you’ll get enveloped into working with one wild agent. And third? Don’t make friends with your next con; especially when he’s the Mayor (Jeremy Renner)… Believe me, there are numerous other problems for our cast, but that would be spoiling things somewhat!

American Hustle (2014)

The strength of American Hustle is clearly in its cast, but the same too can be said of its plotting. But let’s first dwell on the performances. It’s no secret that The Phage is a huge fan of Bradley Cooper. We tell you this every time we see him in a film, and indeed, tell you at numerous other times too. Cooper is again on sterling form, with a role that’s got more in common with The Place Beyond The Pines more than his “typical” Hangover-esque portrayals. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even fair to use The Hangover roles to describe Cooper any more; he’s done far too many other films. Similarly, Christian Bale is on great form too, clearly relishing the role. Likewise, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence deliver solidly in their performances. I’m a little surprised to see Lawrence up for BAFTAs and Globes with her performance here, which isn’t as captivating as that of Silver Linings Playbook, but that’s mainly because she’s not strictly a main character here. I was pleasantly taken aback by Jeremy Renner’s turn here too. He’s new to the David O. Russell stable, but his role was interesting and deep.

Indeed, it’s this level of “deepness” that makes American Hustle as interesting as it is. It’s not some ham-fisted attempt at a con film, as each character has flaws and dilemmas. It’s not Oceans Eleven. Thankfully. The plot continues to thrust forwards, leaving you wondering just who is going to come out on top. I like the fact that films don’t necessarily end happily nowadays, as this introduces a lot of guesswork on the audience’s behalf as they try and second-guess where the film’s ultimately going to end up.

American Hustle (2014)

Having said all of this, the film isn’t perfect. It’s got a meaty run time, that perhaps almost outstretched its welcome. Considering I’m a fan of all people involved in the movie, that says something. Quite what I’m trying to say? I’m not sure; it’s just that there’s fat that could otherwise have been trimmed here. Even just a swift 10-15 minutes hacked off the run time could have done wonders. That’s not to say it makes the film back… it just stops it being a “classic”.

American Hustle is a wonderfully vivid movie set against the backdrop of the 1970’s. David O. Russell contnues his directorial run to deliver a beautifully written and shot film, albeit with a little extra fat than was perhaps absolutely necessary. As awards’ season looms large, I wonder whether we could see any wins for American Hustle; it’s certainly a great film, but in a year with so many enormously strong contenders, can it walk away with any of the big ones? Time will tell.

All of this just makes me interested to see what David O. Russell will deliver next, and who he’ll be using in his next ensemble piece. Although Nailed is cited as being his next production, it deviates somewhat from the more serious / likely to get acclaim films that he’s become synonymous with in recent years. We just want more Bradley Cooper, but who didn’t see that coming from us?!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Advertisements

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

Metals… there seems to be a lot of emphasis on them in films nowadays. Not that there are films out there about smelting and how steel alloys are crafted, but you can’t help but notice how the combination of metals and humans has made some serious money in the past few years. OK, this is a really odd and tenuous link / introduction to the review, but you get my point surely? Robert Downey Jr.‘s Iron Man and all of his related films have been a major earner in Hollywood. A major earner. They’ve taken comic book movies to the next level and showed the immense drawing power of these films. So what happens when you upgrade your iron? How about we put some steel into the mix? And switch from Marvel to DC? And add Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder into the mix? Let’s see how Man of Steel stacks up shall we?

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel is of course the story of Superman. The superhero that flies, shoots heat lasers, has x-ray vision, is super strong, is near invincible etc. etc. This is one of the main reasons I’ve never had any affection towards him from a comic book fan’s perspective. He’s just got too many damn powers. And his weakness? Kryptonite… an asset that everyone seems to have in his world. I won’t lie; I’ve never read a single page or panel of a Superman comic, so this review isn’t coming at you from a fanboy perspective. What do you think this is? A Marvel film review!? Nor can I attest to being a fan of Christopher Reeve‘s outings as Superman. If I’m honest, the closest I’ve got to this franchise was Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Yeah, I admitted it. What of it?!

Regardless, this movie has been touted as gritty and grounded; due in no small part to the success of Christopher Nolan‘s Batman franchise. This also explains his involvement as an Executive Producer on this movie. Couple that with Zack Snyder and you should have something to marvel at. I must admit, I was dubious of Snyder being given the gig, as I’ve been less than impressed with him since 300. Watchmen was okay, and Sucker Punch? Well, let’s not speak of it. But I’ll hand it to him… Man of Steel is good. Very good…

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel is the reboot the series has been yelling out for. It tells the obligatory origin story, but in a refreshing way. We see little Kal-El (Henry Cavill) on Krypton being sent away by his parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) as they aim to let him thrive off on Earth before Krypton implodes / he’s taken by the marauding General Zod (Michael Shannon). We skip a load of years and see his life with Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent. What’s refreshing is that his life is filled in through flashbacks throughout the film, which allows the central plot to progress (him coming to terms with his powers, discovering the hero inside, yadda yadda) whilst also colouring in the background. I liked it.

The story is quite straight forward in many ways, and is probably a bit cliché / has been done before. But what really sold Man of Steel to me was the sheer calibre of the acting on show. Everyone is pulling their weight and then some. Let’s, naturally, focus on Clark / Kal-El / Superman himself: Henry Cavill. This guy is perfect for the role – from his astoundingly broad-chested physique to his mannerisms and relatability. I was totally sold on Cavill‘s performance and can’t wait to see him return. My next favourites in the movie? Easily Costner and Crowe. I’m a big Russell Crowe fan, and once again he showed his acting chops off really well, as did Costner; giving one of his best performances in years. There wasn’t a single weak link in the line-up of main actors here. That’s hard to achieve!

Man of Steel (2013)

As I mentioned earlier, the flaws with the film – for me – were the plotting (fairly obvious) and sometimes very dry tone. I’m not expecting Iron Man-esque laugh out loud moments, but it was the inclusion of two or three obvious spoken jokes that had me cringing. They fell so flat and left me feeling awkward. Some have bemoaned the lengthy running time, but I’ll disagree with them; I thought it worked well at its current length. Sure, there was probably one fight too many in the middle section, but I was entertained and that’s what matters with comic book movies isn’t it? On that note, I also felt the climax of the movie – the “big bad event” was fitting and felt suitably menacing. I’d argue it was a far bigger threat than The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers could muster. It’s nice to feel a true threat… even if you had no doubt about the ultimate outcome!

Man of Steel (2013)

Also, I need to mention just how it looked… fantastic. Snyder does have a flair for filming beautiful looking scenes and Man of Steel doesn’t disappoint. I felt the sheer scale of his universe and felt drawn into it entirely. As I say, I can’t wait for the already announced Man of Steel 2… although I hope it’s not called that!

Man of Steel is the Superman movie fans have been roaring out for for years since the weak Superman Returns. Finally, arguably the most famous superhero of all time has a film to be proud of. The reason this film works so well is the way in which it’s an origin story, but told in a nicely succinct way, and the sheer calibre of acting talent on show. Cavill is the perfect Superman and his supporting cast are all firing on all cylinders. Although the film’s not perfect, and arguably not as fun as Marvel’s current stable of characters, it bodes well for the future of the franchise.

So who wins out of steel and iron? Although steel is actually the superior metal, there’s no competition here in the fact that Iron Man is superior to Man of Steel. But it’s close. And you could argue that they’re incomparable owing to radically different tonality. Whilst one is stern, one is jokey. Can you imagine Robert Downey Jr. as Superman though? Can you? Now that’s something to think about…

Phage Factor:

4 Star