American Hustle

tn_americanhustleDavid O. Russell’s latest is a fictionalized take on a true 1970s incident when the FBI worked with conmen to entrap politicians to take bribes from a fake Sheik. The movie opens in the thick of it, right before a big attempted sting, with a long, quiet, unbroken take of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) gluing on his toupee and carefully combing his remnants of real hair over it. It’s pretty representative of the movie: silly almost to the point of Will Ferrell cartoonishness, but you have to stare at it and contemplate it long enough that it’s on the verge of becoming more sad than funny.

Who does this guy think he’s fooling? Why is he so vain? Won’t somebody tell him how terrible he looks? So when FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) angrily grabs the toupee and makes it stick straight up, and Irving just stands there angrily, I already feel for him. It’s a funny sight gag, but also it says something about human vulnerability. We can be so hung up on a phony image that we fool ourselves.

That’s also kinda what the movie’s about. Almost everybody here is full of shit. We have our con artists with their fake businesses, our FBI agents with their undercover personas, one main character with an undercover persona for the undercover agents to believe in. Everybody’s cheating: Irving has a wife named Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) but is in love with his partner Sydney (Amy Adams). Sydney loves Irving, but must pretend to fall for Richie, and it seems like that might actually be happening, which would be cheating on Irving. Richie has a fiancee back home who he completely ignores, and man does he want to fuck Sydney (although he thinks her name is Lady Edith). Even Rosalyn starts to fall for somebody besides Irving.

And let’s be fair, Irving has by far the worst hair, but nobody else is natural. Sydney, Rosalyn and Richie all have major emotional scenes that take place while they have curlers in their hair.

mp_americanhustleThe guy they’re trying to get to take a bribe in the opening is the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). He wears his hair in a Johnny Cash pompadour, we see him literally shaking hands and kissing babies, and the people love him. He grew up poor and is beloved by the working class and by black people. In a couple scenes you see people coming up behind him smiling, like “Holy shit, that’s Mayor Polito! I have to shake his hand!”

So he’s secretly a total scumbag, right? He made gambling legal and he makes big inspirational speeches about how they’re going to revive the economy in Atlantic City. He’s dealing with casino owners, and that means mobsters.

But that’s what surprised me in this movie: the guy you most expect to be corrupt is actually the most admirable character. The twist with the mayor is he’s actually sincere. He’s falling into this FBI trap not because he’s greedy, but because he sees an opportunity to get this fictional Sheik to invest in these casinos that he believes will bring money back into the community and help lift many of his constituents out of poverty.

The character is based on a real Mayor of Camden named Angelo Errichetti, but this aspect might have been inspired by the late John Murtha of Pennsylvania. He was celebrated as one of the few war veterans in congress who were critical of the Iraq war while it was going on. He was also plagued by rumors of corruption and had been a target of the real life FBI operation that inspired this movie. Murtha was taped meeting about an immigration related bribe, but he didn’t take the money and instead talked about legal ways to invest in his district.

In the movie, when the sting goes sour Irving has to befriend Carmine and make him feel more comfortable about the fake deal, and they end up going out for drinks, expensive food, drunken Tom Jones singalongs.  They’re livin it up, but Carmine’s not the same as these people with the perms and wigs. He has a wife named Dolly (Elisabeth Rohm) who he genuinely adores. He doesn’t have mistresses and when Irving tries to bring along his girl instead of his actual wife Carmine is disappointed in him and convinces him to do otherwise. Carmine has a huge family and his kids all love him and he even adopted a kid, which is Russell’s symbol for a good-hearted person (see also I HEART HUCKABEES and FLIRTING WITH DISASTER). In fact, our signal that Irving has some decency left in him is that he legally adopted his wife’s son and refuses to skip town because it would be abandoning him.

So I think what ends up happening is the Mayor anti-scams Irving, un-hustles him. Irving is this guy whose whole life is based on lies. His one big instance of being truthful is when he first reveals to his mistress that he’s a con man. His career is built on making people believe in these fake relationships: I like you, I’m gonna help you out, Edith here has “London banking connections,” this Sheik wants to be your friend, he’s even giving you a ceremonial dagger as a symbol of his respect. He’s striking up a fake friendship with this guy Carmine, and what does Carmine do? He acts in good faith. He becomes an actual friend.

They have fun together. Carmine likes Irving so much he buys him this new thing, a microwave oven. The American equivalent of a ceremonial dagger, I guess. (By the way, the second I heard Bale refer to it as a “science oven” I knew that would be joining the lexicon.) That’s another scene that’s emblematic of the movie. Carmine tells him he has something for him, he opens up the trunk of the car, there’s a long PULP FICTION shot from inside the trunk of them looking at it. What is it gonna be, a bunch of money? A kidnap victim? No, it’s a fuckin microwave, and he doesn’t know what it is because it’s the late ’70s.

That’s easy comedy but the real point of the scene is how taken aback Irving is by the gesture. He can’t believe this guy just wanted to buy him something because he wanted to be nice to him and not trying to get something out of him. He has to ask him about it, say it out loud to make sure he’s understanding this correctly. He’s touched, and I think that is kinda touching in itself. Later it’s clear that he loves the microwave not because it’s an expensive luxury item but because it has sentimental value because of who gave it to him.

These actors are all at the top of their game. In a way Bale gets the shaft because the movie acts like it’s about him but then it ends up focusing so much on Adams and Cooper’s characters that it doesn’t really feel like his story after a while. But of course this is another one of his physical transformation roles (I swear he gained weight in his hands, his hands look fat) and I especially like that he gets to be funny. When was the last time he did that? I guess you could say THE FIGHTER, but before that AMERICAN PSYCHO. Usually he’s so grim and broody. Why so serious?

A buddy of mine saw this at a critic’s screening, he said “I didn’t like it, but you’ll love it because Amy Adams has her boobs hanging out the whole time.” He’s not wrong. It’s a fact that one of the movie’s major focuses is showcasing her hotness. She’s wearing ’70s dresses and has to be flirtatious with everybody and tease Bradley Cooper to the point of imminent boner explosion. And one of her first scenes is a montage of going around buying jazz records! For a man of my predilection it’s not a fair fight, I don’t got a chance. I’m an easy mark for this. You get it, that is con man lingo but also it’s an embarrassing admission of human weakness. I have an Amy Adams problem, and I want to be better. I want my life back.

But I think I can fairly judge that it’s one of her best performances. At first she’s doing this English accent and later you find out that it’s the character herself doing an accent. She’s playing a character playing a character and has to go in and out. She’s smart and likable but flawed and obviously a little crazy to be doing this stuff and dealing with these people. One funny, very believable moment is when she has to be around Irving when he’s with his wife and she turns ridiculously jealous. Man that girl can glare.

And Cooper continues to work well with Russell. He’s not making as much of a leap but he’s great as this intense character who gets to gloat in victory and mope in defeat. He’s deluded but not a total doofus, only partial. Unfortunately since it takes place in the ’70s there aren’t any MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN references like in CHRIS TUCKER’S SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.

Maybe those two are at their best when they’re firing off each other. One of my favorite scenes, and this should be marked a SPOILER, is when she finally drops her accent with Richie. She has already pretended to reveal her true self, “no bullshit,” and when she finally really does it’s a disaster. I don’t think it’s just anger over her having lied to him, which would be completely fair. I think it’s also disappointment in not having this Lady Eve fancy woman anymore. So he’s completely rejecting the real Sydney. It’s a reflection of the earlier scene where Irving laid it on the line for her and thought she was rejecting him but in fact she was getting into character to show him she could hang with his lifestyle. This is why, in the weird romantic world of the movie, Sydney and Irving are meant to be together.

Lawrence maybe shows that the borders of her talents are not infinite – she’s reaching a little with her accent and playing a character that probly needs to be older and more physically worn out than she is – but as always she’s really funny and even likable while playing the most obnoxious person in the movie. She fucks up and almost gets everybody killed by insisting on coming along for something Irving wisely doesn’t trust her for, going up and talking to gangsters, opening her big mouth to them, etc. I love the scene where Irving explains to her how he’s gonna clean up the huge mess she caused and she takes credit, saying he never could’ve come up with the idea without her. Any normal person would flip their lid over that, but he’s a con man, so he knows he just has to agree with her and thank her for her help.

I read somewhere that Lawrence’s worst scene was dancing around and singing “Live and Let Die.” I disagree. I liked that part because the kid is watching her being so crazy and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on, and it brought back childhood memories of my mom being stressed and doing weird shit, and it was scary to me at a certain age. You gotta count on these people and then you see them acting like weirdos and all bets are off.

Renner has a less showy role, and a simpler one than what he got to do in THE HURT LOCKER and THE TOWN. But his aura of genuine goodness shines through. This is crucial for the climax where (SPOILER) Irving feels the need to come and admit to him what’s going on. So he gets to be the guy who the undercover got real close to, and is outraged at the betrayal, the Al Pacino in DONNIE BRASCO or the Vin Diesel in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. Except he’s genuinely just a good guy who stretched ethics for a larger good, so he really is getting screwed. And I love that Russell has his entire family come down the stairs at the same time and shame Irving. I previously identified that as a Russell trademark, the scene where a huge group of characters are walking around together for comedic effect (although this time it’s more for emotional effect).

The filmatistic style is impostor Scorsese, cribbed from GOODFELLAS, with lots of great ’70s rock song montages and well-done but a little overbearing first-person voiceovers from multiple characters. Like ARGO (whose director was at one time attached to this script) it’s got a little bit of a funny dress-up feel to go with its ’70s period trappings. But since the style and excess is part of the subject matter, and since the characters themselves are sort of playing dress up and pretend, it plays as a loving tribute to the period, not a joke about it.

With WOLF OF WALL STREET in the theaters it’s hard not compare the two movies, and I think there’s no question that the real Scorsese is way better. This doesn’t have the narrative control or emotional weight of GOODFELLAS. What does? What makes it lighter, but also distinctly David O. Russell, is that he’s not as concerned with the narrative. He took Eric Warren Singer’s script about the real ABSCAM case, rewrote it with fictional names and, according to Bale, encouraged the actors to improvise and focus on character rather than plot. So it’s a shaggy dramedy loosely hanging on a political movie’s skeleton. It’s Russell’s love for riffing on goofballs who take themselves way too seriously but are kind of endearing for that reason (think of Mark Wahlberg in I HEART HUCKABEES).

Like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK it rambles around loosely enough that it feels a little awkward when it occasionally stumbles onto standard formula bits like (SPOILER) in the end when he figures out how to screw over the FBI and get his way. It feels like a hollowly satisfying happy ending where he gets to live happily ever after and we’re okay with it even though he’s an asshole. But there’s a subtle sting to it. Yeah, Carmine got a reduced sentence, but the greedier criminals (the mafia, our heroes) get off scott free.

I don’t think this is a movie for the ages, I think the true-ish story subject matter, time period and stylistic conceits make it feel like it should be heavier and more important than it is, and I can see why that would be a turn off for some people. But I like it. I actually watched it a few weeks ago, and I’ve seen at least three better movies since then, but it’s still lingered in my mind. It’s all about great actors playing unusual characters, bouncing off each other, being funny, finding interesting angles on their relationships and situations. That’s what Russell is good at so I hope he keeps doing it, and keeps bringing these actors back for more. Also Chris Tucker.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 at 10:43 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses to “American Hustle”

  1. I am really reaching the tipping point of how much of this Scorsese-lite, camera-whips-around-to-constant-huge-musical-cues-of-famous-classic-rock-songs. I liked AMERICAN HUSTLE just fine, but it felt a lot less specifically Russell-y to me. This style was already getting old by the time Paul Thomas Anderson clubbed it to death in MAGNOLIA. Now even Scorsese is just doing a poor imitation of himself.

  2. Oh I forgot to include the “everyone constantly fucking narrating all the time for no reason” part of the style, too.

  3. My interest in this pretty much starts and ends with Jennifer Lawrence in that dress, but I’ll probably see it anyway. At this point Russell has made a career of making movies I have no desire to see that I nonetheless end up liking. A slapstick farce about neurotic well-to-do white people and their neurotic well-to-do white parents, starring fucking Ben Stiller? Pass. Liked it anyway. A sprawling “everything is connected” dramedy full of Wes Anderson-esque twee affectations? Pass. Liked it anyway. An inspirational dance movie about how crazy people have so many lessons to teach us? Double pass. Kinda loved it. A 70s period piece where Oscar-nominated actors get to play dress-up in wacky wigs? Pass. Resigned to liking it in a year after I rent it from the library.

    (I still haven’t seen THE FIGHTER on account of maybe sort of hating Christian Bale a little. It’s not even the [REDACTED]MAN thing. The guy just acts too hard, like it’s physically painful for him. It’s like he’s forcing out a performance three sizes too big through his constipated colon. It’s no fun to watch. The idea of him doing a Boston accent makes me want to drink. But I’ll probably like that one, too.)

    The only Russell movie I was onboard with from the jump was THREE KINGS, but that was an action comedy. Way more in my wheelhouse. Yet he keeps surprising me. You’d think at some point I’d just give him the benefit of the doubt, but I guess I’m just not that trusting. I didn’t go see HER either, and Spike Jonze has done no wrong in my eyes. You just can’t convince me that’s a premise worth going to the theater for, as much as I’ll probably love it on video.

    I also don’t get the Amy Adams thing. She’s cute and all, but I remain immune to her charms. Sorry, Vern. Hopefully Obamacare will let you get the help you need.

  4. Normally I love movies like this. Everyone in the movie felt like they were doing a performance. Not a single actor in this movie felt natural in their part to me. This is one of the more hollow movie experiences I’ve had in a long time. It just felt like a showcase to get some actors awards and nothing more. The story was secondary and the actors( not even that good) performances were actually in the forefront. Bradley Cooper was the worst of the bunch to me. He was overacting at every turn( and not in a good Nick Cage kinda way). I have no clue where the critics love for this movie comes from. It wasn’t any better then something like The Iceman, which was pretty hollow also.

  5. Man, I really detested this movie. My girlfriend and I were so excited about it. We both absolutely loved The Fighter (simultaneously the best addiction movie and the best boxing movie of the last twenty years, in my opinion) and Silver Linings had us, along with my best friend Matt, walking on air out of the theater, discussing the film long into the afternoon that day. So when I was about one hour deep into this and realized it wasn’t going to get good, we were too far into it for any real redemption (I say that, but Christmas Evil is there to show us that miracles really do happen). I was a bit worried when I saw the old school production logos. That was a fun trick for Zodiac, Superbad, whatever, but that shit is played the fuck out. Then, yeah, basically the movie wasn’t terrible, but it should have been fucking amazing. It was the most “here’s a movie” movie I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe since Argo, actually. The fact that its basically being presented to the public as “a masterpiece” before we even got to see the thing is fucking offensive. I dunno, I saw Out of the Furnace a week or so before this, and that movie, while flawed, had some scenes in it that I won’t soon forget. American Hustle I basically forgot by the next day. I just don’t get why a dude as talented, and on the hot streak he is, like David Russell would feel the need to make a throwback to “new Hollywood”. doesn’t he understand that he is already part of a group of filmmakers in 2013, making excellent films NOW? I mean, dude was already part of the early 90s indie sundance/whatever explosion, with his totally overlooked, excellent Spanking the Monkey. I just don’t fucking get it!! Out of the Furnace, Place Beyond the Pines, Only God Forgives even, these movies were far more true to the spirit of “new Hollywood” but they didn’t have to beat us over the head with the concept. Really all they were trying to do was tell us a compelling story in an unconventional way, and they were successful. And I LIKE STYLE. Only God Forgives is PURE STYLE. This movie was just empty, boring, a showcase for great performances, but oh wait, whoops, we forgot to make the story interesting. IT IS AN INTERESTING STORY. And its a conman movie, what they thought we were above seeing some elaborate con play out? It just kind of fizzles. Anyway, all these reasons and more, wasn’t a big fan of American Hustle

  6. Chitown- funny you bring up The Iceman, because even though that movie wasn’t great, I was thinking about it the whole time I was watching this one, thinking, Shit, ICEMAN IS BETTER THAN THIS??!?!

  7. I saw it and had a lot of fun with it, but it did feel a bit overlong and overdone in places. How old was Renner’s character supposed to be, by the way? Because he only looked about 10 years older than his “kids”.

  8. Randy said it really well, but I just have to add this: I know the Oscars aren’t the end-all/be-all of movies (far from it), but nonetheless, if this movie gets Picture over *12 Years*? Fuck no. At its best this movie is just trying to do something that’s been done for literally four decades of films. *12 Years* is not only better but trying to do something really brand-new. C’mon, Academy. Prove my fears unfounded.

  9. I’m with you, Ben

  10. Fuck the Oscars. I gave up using them as an indicator of a good film after fucking Shakespeare In Love beat SAVING GOD-DAMN PRIVATE RYAN for best picture. Again I say fuck the Oscars.

  11. The Oscars I think of more a outdated tradition from a bygone era than an actual indication of good movies. It is also self-indulgance at it´s absolute worst and I avoid it at every cost.

  12. Still haven’t seen this, or WOLF OF WALL STREET. Because of the demands of work and family I usually have to wait till they hit DVD. WOLF doesn’t open in Sydney till the end of this month but I will be there on opening day, so I make the effort to get to the cinema when it’s a movie I NEED to see. Interesting aside – I saw MAN OF STEEL twice in the cinema and struggled to really embrace it. Recently watched it at home on Bluray and fuckin loved it. Don’t know why but it played better for me on the small screen.

    I love D O Russell but will have to wait for DVD. Years ago I read the book REBELS ON THE BACKLOT about the emergence of the 90’s indie wunderkinds QT, Jonze, Russell, someone else but I can’t remember who…anyway Russell is a notorious ball-breaker, or rather was, I heard he’s softened over the years. Y’all know the story, him and CLOONEY locked horns on THREE KINGS allegedly over the way Russell treated his crew. Russell might be New Hollywood but I like that he has a bit the Old Hollywood Ego-Maniac in him. He’s got the balls to make a movie his own way without the approval of the Hollywood A-list.

  13. Darren – I recently had almost the same kind of experience with A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD on blu-ray as you with MAN OF STEEL. I think it worked better with me on a samll screen as well. Hated AGDTDH in the cinema, but actually embraced it better on the small screen. The shakycam is not at all that bad when you have a distance from the screen ( I sat at the front seat at the cinema and was just appalled at the car chase) and now I actually can embrace it. The sheer stupidity of the scenario of it is great and the stunts and explosions are insane in it. these are things that went me by at my cinema experience. Proves cinema is perhaps not always the best place to experience cinema.

    I know it is too late for the Airing of Grievances as Festivus season has left us, but I think I aired them with my blu-ray screening. It´s still not a great movie and easily the worst in the series as a whole, but I have definetely warmed up to it. I hope I don´t come off as a coat-turner, but hey a real man has to admitv when he is wrong.

  14. I meant turn coat.

  15. I was one of the three guys who enjoyed A GOOD DAY in the theater, but I agree that it plays better on TV. It kind of goes by in a blur on the big screen, but at home you can savor it a little more. Just don’t watch the director’s cut, because future Mrs. Majestyk Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been inexplicably excised from it.

  16. Shoot – good point about the shaky-cam not being so bad on the small screen. MOS was a bit like that, losing me in the action. On the small screen I also found it easier to connect with the more dramatic elements of the story like his childhood flashbacks and his relationship with his dad.

    Vern – your review was GREAT writing. I like that by the end of the second paragraph you had cut to the heart of an issue when you said “…but it also says something about human vulnerability. We can be so hung up on an image that we fool ourselves.” An observation worthy of Ebert. I may not get to see a lot of new releases as soon as I would like, but I have your words to keep me informed. Cheers.

  17. Yeah, I noticed that. The exclusion of the “almost” family reunion is an odd one in the extended cut- especially if part 6 would conclude a trilogy of Die Hard family reconciliation starting with part 4.

    The blu ray has some great deleted scenes. The gun store part is great and a fight sequence is also included that was deleted from the finished film. I am very happy I purchased the blu-ray becuase I am finally able to enjoy an entire saga of DIE HARD without having grivences anymore with any of them. I feel like Dennis Franz in DIE HARD 2 when he tears McClanes parking ticket at the very end.

  18. Starts out pretty slow but once it feels like its put in the good work with the old Character Development and affords itself the opportunity to cut loose, its firing on all cylinders. Peaks when they all go to the casino together and there’s an actually good cameo from that one guy; it’s the sort of incandescent gathering of ridiculously charismatic actors having the time of their lives that the Oceans movies always wanted, but I don’t think they ever had anything quite as good as this little stretch.

    Particularly I liked the little confrontation between the women in the bathroom; Rosalyn kissing Sydney was one of the year’s best character moments for me. It doesn’t quite express exactly what Rosalyn wants to express but it’s exactly what she would do at that moment, I think. I’m sympathetic to the complaints that the role is at the outskirts of Lawrence’s range, but I really think if they had foregone the attempted accent she would have effortlessly waltzed away with the film.

    The plot’s a bit ponderous, and some of the symbolism is ridiculously heavy handed. The fucking nail polish that smells good but has an underlying stench, that they conspicuously discard to signify that they’ve changed their ways. A little much there eh?

    In all I liked it more than most of the commenters here and was glad that I saw it in the theater.

  19. I really liked the subplot between Cooper and Louis CK’s characters. Really want to know how that ice fishing story ended.

  20. insert name here

    January 7th, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Everyone has compared this to Scorsese or PTA, and you can see that in a few superficial trappings, but what Russell is doing, and what connects this to the rest of his filmography, is a little different. Russell has always (except for maybe with Spanking the Monkey) been much closer to the masters of the old hollywood talkies than anything else. His stuff tends to remind me of Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubtisch, maybe Jean Renoir or Robert Altman a little bit. It has that fast talking, overlapping dialogue, emphasis on characters bouncing off of each other more than the plot. Flirting with Disaster was basically a textbook screwball comedy, and I saw elements of Bringing Up Baby in Silver Linings Playbook. That’s why I think he’s been able to do this kind of work for hire middlebrowish stuff (everything since the Fighter) without losing his voice.

  21. insert – I think you are right about the old-hollywood screwball stuff. I remember the Coens trying to pull it off with INTOLERABLE CRUELTY but it just fell flat and I found it extremely dull. Russell seems to really be in love with that style, whereas the Coens were maybe just checking it off their list of styles to fashion a movie with.

  22. “My interest in this pretty much starts and ends with Jennifer Lawrence in that dress”

    yeah, I have to admit, seeing her in that dress makes me feel kinda funny down below

    anyway, I find it interesting how we’re seeing more and more movies set in the 70’s, I have a theory that it’s kinda like the time there were so many movies made in the 90’s set in either the 50’s or early 60’s, we are roughly as far removed from the 70’s as the 90’s was from the early 60’s

  23. Twerk Instructor

    January 8th, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Our day will come to be retro too, Griffy.

  24. Now shake that ass!

  25. I like how Vern has reviewed two movies in a row with solo Beatle songs being awesomely used. I mean you have to respect any talent that can take a cheesy and cheery reggae-rocker like “Live & Let Die” and turn it into an ominous, “Oh shit” kind of counter-programming. That takes talent.

    I really enjoyed AH, got involved with the characters. Unlike WOWS I don’t think this is a dash of art or something thoughtful to say that you can come back to in your mind like I have with WOWS. But you know what? AH is a pretty darn good entertainment, and that’s it. Its the same reaction I had to THE DEPARTED. Good acting from the leads, was slightly more involved than I usually am in disposable entertainments, but afterwards the movie is just is what it is.

    No offense but people complaining about the plot really missed the boat. The plot is for the birds, it doesn’t matter as much as the 4 core performances and their interactivity with each other.

    BTW not to spoil that surprise cameo in AH but for whatever reason while that actor lately has mostly done junk, DOR seems to get good fucking work from him. Its nice to be reminded of how awesome he truely can be.

    Vern – Did you also think like I did that *SPOILER* the ending made no sense? I mean why would the mob let Bale live after it came out that he was working for the Feds? Sure Bale let them know that the Feds were on their ass, but even then wouldn’t the mob have whacked him anyway just because?

    Griff – honestly that vivid 1970s recreation might be why AH wins the Oscar. Alot of those voters are now what, in their 50s, 60s? The 70s was maybe their heyday, this is a time machine for them. Reminds me of how THE STING (set in the Depression) won the Oscar in the 1970s.

    Ben – its funny how most laymen bitch at the Oscars for awarding “arty farty elitist movies that nobody watches” but look at some of the winners from the last few years. ARGO, KING’S SPEECH, THE DEPARTED, GLADIATOR, the last LORD OF THE RINGS film, CHICAGO, etc. Alot of those winners aren’t “art” by any means. In fact alot of those winners were crowd-pleasing entertainments. Go figure. Within this trend, I can see how AH can win Best Picture over 12YAS, which some voters allegedly bitched at for being “too depressing.” (you know we liberals love to trash red state America for loving shit like THE BUTLER and THE HELP but when Hollywood voters do the same, thats when I get depressed.)

    Darren – call me a douche but if you need 3 viewings in under 6 months to like a movie, you might possibly be slightly forcing yourself to like a movie. Just saying.

    Also honestly, I can’t say directors being assholes usually affects my opinion of their output as much as it does you. Howard Hawks was an antisemite, but RIO BRAVO was pretty cool. Polanski fled to France because he was rape-y, but hey mother fucker made CHINATOWN. And so forth. Then again, I don’t think I’ve purposefully ever watched a Victor Salva movie ever.

    Then again I’m a Prince fan, and Prince might be one of the more dodgier hard-to-defend cats out there with both his erratic behavior and his cold relations with ex co-workers and close relations or you know actually sue his fans more than once. THE GOLD EXPERIENCE is still awesome.

    Insert – I like that thought.

    renfield – my AH screening crowd loved J-Law. She’s the clown of the picture if you think about it, pops up to get a laugh and sometimes lighten the mood whenever it becomes a crime picture or a mid-life crisis examination, etc. J-Law is the real deal, folks!

  26. Coen Brothers’ homage to screwball is THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, not INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (which is more like a Billy Wilder movie I think, and I agree that it’s not among their best movies). I don’t think that Russell (or anyone else in Hollywood I’m aware of right now, sans Tarantino and Woody Allen, and no, NOT Wes Anderson) comes even close to the Coens’ ability of capturing the magic of screwball. It’s not just fast talking and overlapping dialogue. It’s the rhythm and sophistication that Russell lacks. His movies tend to be slow and his characters are simple. Worse than that – he also tends to sentimentalize them for NO reason . That’s why AH doesn’t come close to WOWS. Scorsese would never sugarcoat these dushbags – he knows what’s keeping it real is really all about.
    I’m even more outraged by the Hawks’ comparison. Hawks was an independent in an era in which indie movies didn’t even exist – almost all Hollywood was on contracts at that time. No Miramax. Also, his movies were tough, entertaining and COOL. SCARFACE was something like PULP FICTION. Goddard declared it was the best movie of all times. He invented other genres as well – the formula for almost any modern movie war movie is AIR FORCE. And of course the screwballs with Cary Grant, the Westerns with John Wayne and the-not-so-noirs with Bogart. If you really want to know why those guys were stars, and what was so cool about them you have to watch a Hawks movie (look at Monroe in BLONDS). Russell’s technique with actors and plots may have some similarities with Hawks in his latest career. But Hawks’ characters were cool, while Russell’s are uncool.

    So maybe, in that sense, he is more like Altman, who dealt with the antihero? I don’t think so. He lacks the radical edge that Altman had and unlike him I don’t think he invented any new filmic techniques or interesting styles. It is true that some of his movies are as boring and pretentious as some of Altman’s, but I’m not a great fan anyway.

  27. The Original... Paul

    January 8th, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Ok guys… I’m considering going to see this one on my day off tomorrow. Will I hate it?

    I’m dead serious. You guys know that if I don’t like, or at least sympathise with, the characters in a movie, I’m probably going to hate it. There are other things that I dislike in movies generally but that’s the one that really, really gets my goat. When the story is utterly predictable AND the characters are unlikeable it gets a lot worse for me. The last couple of years there’s been at least one movie like this for me.

    Look at “Trance” (which some of the “American Hustle” comments are reminding me unpleasantly of, by the way). Or “Young Adult”. Both movies that have gained at least some acclaim, but which I couldn’t stand because the characters – no matter how well-acted – just struck me as either uninteresting or irredeemably nasty. Both movies also made it obvious in the first few scenes exactly where they were going, so there was no suspense to their stories either. Predictable, cliche’d or overly telegraphed storylines + unlikeable characters = death for my movie experience.

    Well I’ve avoided the spoilers about this one, so it comes down to the movie. Is this going to be another “Trance” or “Young Adult”? If so, I’ll save my time and money. I’m putting two hours and eight quid in your hands here, guys. The stakes are high.

  28. The Original... Paul

    January 8th, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Oh, and when I say unlikeable characters, I don’t mean the ones that you’re SUPPOSED to hate / root against, the villains. I mean the guys that you spend the entire movie with but just dislike every second of it because they’re so annoying or unpleasant. Ryan Reynolds from “Buried” or those hysterical douchebags from “The Lost World” who get everyone else killed would be more examples (although they’re pretty extreme ones). Those kinds of characters.

  29. Griff – re MOS I didn’t say I disliked the film, only that I struggled to embrace it. For the record, on my first viewing I LIKED it. I thought it was a good film. I went back a second time because I wanted to try and figure out WHY. I’m not what you would call a ‘fan-boy’ of the super-hero genre in particular, but I do like a good story, well told, and with a certain dramatic, character driven weight, super-hero or not. Action for the sake of action does not make a good story for me unless I’m invested in the characters. Especially action of the shaky-cam variety.

    I said above I got a bit lost in the action on the big screen and didn’t really connect with the story until I saw it at home. This raised my love for the film considerably. My love for OTHER films also has grown over repeated viewings. It happens.

  30. ^sorry Griff…@RRA

  31. Darren – “embrace” it? I understand if you saw a movie once, didn’t think much of it, caught it again later under a different light and went “hey that was actually good!” I get that. But usually 2 times is as much chances I give any movie at the most, you know?

  32. RRA – to avoid a semantic argument over my use of the word ’embrace’, let me try and put it another way, and maybe in a different context- MOS was a film I was looking forward to seeing for various reasons. On my first viewing(in the cinema, on my own), I liked it. On my second viewing(in a cinema with a friend who hadn’t seen it), I liked it some more. On my recent viewing at home on bluray(on my own if you don’t count the dog, the goldfish and the budgie),I loved it, for reasons stated above in my conversation with Shoot.

  33. The Original... Paul

    January 9th, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    I didn’t see it. I might next week.

    That is all. (Shortest thing I’ve ever written.)

  34. The Original... Paul

    January 15th, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Wow, can’t believe I thought this one might be on the same level as “Trance”. What it has that “Trance” did not have was an earnest desire, on the part of all involved, to entertain their audience. And for me they succeeded.

    I agree with Vern and RRA on this one, guys. I really liked it. Not the best movie I’ve seen this year so far (and I’ve only seen two) but I felt everyone in it was giving it their all. They could’ve had a better story to do it with, but I liked that there was no “big twist”. I liked the retro aesthetic, I mostly liked the use of music (I’m ok with movies that occasionally come across as music videos, if it’s done well), and I liked that Bale, Cooper and Lawrence went into full-on mega-acting mode at one point each.

    Talking of Lawrence: she can ACT, can’t she? I thought this character might annoy the hell outta me when she first appeared, but dayum if she didn’t win me over. I pretty much loved every moment she was onscreen. Her scenes with Bale were superb – I never questioned that these two belonged together. I found her about as far from “sexy” as it’s possible for a woman as beautiful as Lawrence to be, but at the same time I could totally buy that Bale’s character would find her irresistible.

    Negatives: I’m not so fussed on the “obsessive FBI agent” character – honestly that’s a bit of a cliche that I thought had died a graceful death – but Cooper just sells it enough for me. Honestly the really big negative for me was Renner – I get that he was trying to do “understated” but this is NOT the movie for that kind of restraint. He didn’t sell me on the one scene he has where he really gets to let loose, at all – in fact that might’ve been the worst scene in the movie, or at least the least convincing. I think that Renner was absolutely the wrong choice for this kind of role anyway, but with Christopher Walken unavailable, what can you do?

    Overall, I (Paul) approve this movie.

  35. I didn’t like this all that much. I felt like there was a lot of overacting throughout (not Mega-acting), especially by Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. And for me the scene that made me roll my eyes and say “This is fucking ridiculous” was that Live and Let Die part.

    I’m just repeating everyone else with this one, but the editing, camera work and voice-overs sure added up to a pretty undeniable Scorcese imitation.

    And even with the voice-overs and the nimble editing, the movie did a poor job of explaining the details of the scheme. In Goodfellas and Casino, all that voice-over business and quick-cutting was used to really efficiently explain how those criminal enterprises worked. But in American Hustle, it’s never really clear why anybody buys it that the weird Christian Bale character was a representative of this sheik, or why the FBI thought that they really needed Bale to do any of this. His loan scheme from early in the movie (which also doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense) isn’t that similar to the sting that they used him for.

    Also, I know that the movie buys some leeway with that irreverent disclaimer (“Some of this actually happened”) but the movie is way, way, WAY inaccurate.

  36. I only just saw this. For the first hour or so, I was just bored. I liked Amy Adams’ character, but didn’t really understand the details of Bale’s scheme and started losing interest. Then it started building to that scene where a certain SPOILER actor makes an appearance as a stone cold Arabic-speaking gangster and it started reeling me back in. I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned that scene; probably because it might be a little derivative of the classic Scorcese/De Niro collaborations, but I’m a sucker for a well-placed cameo I didn’t have spoiled on me. I also liked the bit where Bale is alone in the dry-cleaners. That is all. And Jeremy Renner is surprisingly good at playing well-meaning earnest characters, which I didn’t expect.

  37. Wow, Vern’s worlds are colliding all over the place out there:

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