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

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The Bourne Legacy (2012)

“The name’s Bond, James Bo-… it isn’t? Ethan Hunt? No? Well, I must be Jason Bourne then right? I’m so forgetful – you know, with the whole amnesiac assassin thing I have going on… What? I’m… Aaron Cross?! Who?” Life as a government trained agent can be terribly hard on the old grey matter. With so many franchises and names bounding around, you’ve got to feel for a character like Aaron Cross; being up against some of the biggest, brightest and down-right bad ass(est) in the field. So with Cross picking up the mantle from Bourne in The Bourne Legacy can he deliver where it matters… even if he didn’t get his desired title of The Cross Conundrum?

Hunt, Bond, Bourne and Cross. Pick your hero.

The Bourne Legacy, in case your grey matter has also been taxed too hard, is the fourth installment in the “Bourne…” franchise of films. The original trilogy, starring Matt Damon, was loosely based on a set of books from the 1980s by Robert Ludlum. The Bourne Legacy takes its title from the fourth book, which isn’t written by Ludlum, and… has nothing else in common with the book. The film is set chronologically alongside the events of The Bourne Ultimatum and follows a new agent: Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who much like Bourne, enjoys successfully running away from the CIA. With this being a thriller, and my oath to the Nine Realms, that’s all I’ll reveal of the plot, but I’m sure you know the premise after three blockbuster movies!

Let me make one thing clear from the get go: I never worshipped at the altar of Bourne. Perhaps it all went wrong with me watching The Bourne Supremacy before any other of the movies. Sure, it was glitzy, the action was frenzied and Matt Damon was brutal, but it lacked soul for me. Does this hinder your enjoyment of this fourth installment? Well, yes and no. If you’re not familiar with certain key terms such as “Treadstone” and “Blackbriar”, or the premise behind the initial trilogy then the first 45 minutes will be very tough for you. The film doesn’t like to dwell on the past. I understand the need to “get on with the show”, but if The Avengers can summarise a whole five other movies and back-stories so seamlessly, then it’s not infeasible. Even though I knew what these terms meant, that opening act left me feeling cold and somewhat lost. It’s like I’d fallen asleep in the trailers and woken up midway into a film. It was jarring, and not at all helpful. Not a great start.

Hawkeye switches arrows for good old bullets.

That being said, there is much to enjoy in this movie once you’ve picked up the premise and Jeremy Renner has had a shave (you’ll see what I mean). What ensues is an international game of cat and mouse filled with great action sequences and a constant degree of suspense. Maybe not as much as one would hope for, but enough to sate the appetite. In typical thriller fashion, these events clearly lead to a crescendo… a climactic end sequence… the money job. Whilst it was a thrilling ride, I can’t help but feel that writer and director Tony Gilroy had been watching a bit too much Terminator 2: Judgement Day, as it all came off a tad “invincible cyborg”. You could have switched Renner and “X” with Arnie and T-1000 and felt right at home, even down to “X”‘s origin story and lack of dialogue. Though this T-1000 is no-where near as menacing as Robert Patrick.

It was great to finally see Jeremy Renner again taking the lead in a movie, after recently being locked in serviceable supporting slots in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. He’s deserved a chance to again take the leading role, and I’m glad it’s come. Alongside Hawkeye Renner in the top-billed cast is Rachael Weisz and the old Hulk Ed Norton as friend and foe respectively. Everyone’s acting is up to scratch, but no-one really excels. There’s no “wow” moment in terms of dialogue or manner of delivery. The film is carried along primarily by the action and the plot. After all, this is a Bourne… movie, so maybe witty monologues aren’t to be expected. That being said, there’s also no excuse for muddying the action scenes with such rabid editing, which made it difficult to discern what was going on on-screen. Just don’t expect such exquisitely shot fight scenes as in The Raid: Redemption and you’ll be fine.

Hawkeye, for the love of God, don’t tell him you thought Mark Ruffalo was a better Bruce Banner… You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

One has to wonder whether this will be the last slice of Bourne we’ll be having at our cinemas. Sure, there are six more books, but as I mentioned – this film had nothing to do with the book, spare the title. And unless Universal can convince Paul Greengrass to return as director, we won’t be seeing Matt Damon return as Jason Bourne either. So the future is somewhat open-ended for this universe. A universe I, as a non-avid fan, would be keen to return to.

Overall, The Bourne Legacy is a lot like Usain Bolt after stepping off a theme park ride and into a sprint: unstable on its feet for a while, but eventually gathers itself and tears along at pace. It’s a solid entry in the franchise, but is really hampered by that slow and meandering opening. Although I wouldn’t expect Gilroy to take the novice viewer by the hand for the initial 15 minutes, explaining previous plot points, I would expect more exposition to improve on that opening.

The beginning of Aaron Cross’ story is intriguing, but isn’t yet enough to cement him along the A list of on-screen agents. But thankfully, he’s not with the reject pile of Johnny English and those damn Spy Kids either. But maybe I just prefer my agents to quaff shaken martinis, make sexual puns about “brushing up on a little Swede”… and lamentably parade around in Speedos, as he insists on doing in recent years.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star