“Sometimes all you have in life are fucked up, poisonous choices...” (Rosalyn to Sydney)
Awards season always makes you think a little more about critical inflation. Everything gets hyped and you consider again that, however much you love them and appreciate their love of cinema, your favourite critics are part of the commercial world – selling magazines and newspapers, promoting films and stars, etc. That said you learn to appreciate who you can trust and why. The day Empire gave 5 stars to Star Wars Episode I was the day I stopped reading it. I know too that every film Peter Bradshaw gives 4 or 5 stars isn’t necessarily a classic that will stand the test of time. His judgements are relative to the year it was made and the general standard of films being made at the time.
And so to American Hustle again: 7.7/10 on IMDB and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and in many places a 4 star film. I liked it first time (with a couple of reservations) and even more so the second viewing. I was right about the dazzling effect of the acting and the direction and probably a little harsh on its obviousness and its reliance on dialogue.
David O. Russell’s movie is bursting with pleasures: how is it that an overweight, balding Christian Bale with a heart problem can be so ridiculously attractive and charismatic. How is it that you can care about all these fucked up characters who are so full of self-deceit and betrayal? But then that is what the film is all about - America and Americans – how self-deceit, deception, loose morals, ambition and violence run deeply and inexorably into every area of life. The swagger and comedy of the performances; brilliantly chosen settings and costumes; sharp editing and bravura camerawork fuse with a sensational score. There’s a joyous choreography about the film that emphasises the madness, the excitement and the inevitability of it all.
I was initially bothered about the female characters: too many scenes where the film shows their jealousy of each other, their manipulative behaviour or in the case of Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), her silly, scatter-brained act. I still feel a little uneasy but Sydney and Rosalyn’s characters play on two specific archetypes. Amy Adams is undoubtedly a variant on the femme fatale. Cinematic history has given us plenty of these characters that have functioned as enigmas to serve the plot rather than as multidimensional characters trying to figure out their own motivations and make difficult choices. Adams (and Russell) just about nails it. Equally, Lawrence’s character is the truth teller of the movie, partially aware of her own neuroses and on hand to cut through the bullshit of everyone else.
There are several points when you can’t help but make serious comparisons between Russell’s set pieces and those of Coppola and Scorcese: the Live and Let Die scene is a belter. In short there is a lot to love and admire here – I shall be treating myself to the Blu-ray - but ultimately it remains a bit baggy and unfinished and it still doesn’t quite feel emotionally or intellectually substantial enough.
Silver Linings Playbook, on the other hand, gets it just right.
And one last thing - Jeremy Renner doesn’t seem to be getting the praise the others are getting - which is a shame – because he's kind of at the heart of the film and he's brilliant.