American Hustle (2013)

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First of all, to all friends out there, whether you’re chinese or not, 新年快乐!祝大家身体健康,万事如意,心想事成,出入平安,金玉满堂…最重要呢,就是要天天开心!I’ve ran out of idioms. Yeah my chinese standard has DROPPED since I entered uni. I guess making an effort to read chinese news once a week isn’t exactly helping. But seriously, happy lunar new year friends!

Let’s begin February with the most divisive movie of 2013. American Hustle, a movie that (supposedly) details the abscam scandal, garnered 10 Oscar nominations and a hell lot of hate, with several reviewers labeling it at the most overrated movie of 2013. I really didn’t know what to expect which is why I held back watching the movie until now, 2 months after it’s release in local theaters. I guess I expected myself to like it; after all, I totally enjoyed David O.Russell’s previous film Silver Linings Playbook despite the hate it received and me admittedly saying that it’s overrated. I just thought that it was a great film, maybe not one I love, but one I wouldn’t don’t mind watching over and over again, especially thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s wonderful performance (I’m serious). I expected my feeling towards American Hustle (AH) to be the same. I mean, look at the cast! Look at the costumes! The music! The trailer!

And yet….I have to admit, I am let down. A lot of people keep comparing the movie to Goodfellas. Let me start off by saying that Scorsese would have worked wonders with the exact same plot. David O.Russell himself claimed that he doesn’t care about plot, but about characters. And that’s what I felt was the problem here; I have nothing against character arcs, I mean look at how Scorsese does it in Goodfellas and even his recent work The Wolf of Wall Street! He manages to somewhat develop Leonardo DiCaprio and even Jonah Hill’s character while keeping the main plot running consistently. I wish I could say the same here though…I mean sure, the characters have a whole bunch of scenes to showcase the actors’ acting chops and yet…I don’t really see the point, because they just weren’t really relevant to the main storyline. The storyline really needed to be a lot tighter; there were times where I was really dangerously close to totally not caring about the actual scandal (aka the main plot) because the film decided to just focus on the characters and their antics a little too much. I mean, sure, I got to know more about them but at the end of the day I’m just like so? What’s the point of knowing these bunch of not very likeable people? While I place a great deal of emphasis on character development in film, I feel that this has to complement the storytelling or at least has some relevance to the storyline in order to keep the audience (or maybe just me) engaged.

Having said all that, I must admit that I didn’t flat out hate the movie because there were some pretty good scenes; Robert De Niro’s cameo was freaking fantastic, it’s like the film temporarily steered into brilliance the moment he started speaking Arabic. Bale’s final scene with Renner was very sad and intense as well, especially thanks to Jeremy Renner’s really great acting there (“Please leave Irving, I’m asking you nicely”). The soundtrack was quite nice as well, and I enjoyed it much more than expected, which is surprising cause I usually don’t really care about this aspect. The hair, makeup, costumes and Adam’s cleavage were a real sight too. I mean, they’re kinda over the top but I actually thought that they were just so outrageously silly and fun to watch that I didn’t mind at all? Hmm.

The acting was, admittedly, a bit disappointing. If you can tell from my previous posts, the actors are most of the time the most important elements of the movie for me, unless the movie is like Inception or something where the fantastic storytelling takes precedence over everything else. Not only do they form the emotional core of the film, they usually are the ones who keep me engaged in the film’s storyline. Over here…well, I think I might have expected too much. Hey, after all, I thought Bale and Adams were really good in The Fighter, Lawrence and Cooper were fantastic in SLP, and Jeremy Renner is also a great actor in my book. So naturally, I’d expect myself to be blown away by the performances by these great actors.

And yet…let’s start from the bottom. In my humble opinion, Bradley Cooper kinda misfired over here. I know many people (and the Academy, of course), love his performance but I couldn’t really connect. I don’t think the character should have been this irritating. Sure, I’d buy that he was a cocky idiot but Cooper played the character almost exactly the same way he did in SLP: neurotic, insecure, unstable and very annoying. I mean, it worked in the context of that film obviously but over here, I honestly thought that the character was on drugs. Seriously I thought they were going to show a scene of him snorting cocaine or something but no! The character seems to be like that. I’d like to take the scene where he visited Amy Adams in the cell, for example. From the moment he started rattling non-stop about how he thinks that Irving should be in jail to how he actually “likes” her, I’d just like “dude, are you high on something? Wtf are you mumbling about?” And the way he assaulted his superior also felt the same way to me; I didn’t feel that it was a frustrated, angry outburst but just some coke head acting like…well, a coke head. I guess some people liked his interpretation and felt that the character should have been that way…but I just couldn’t buy that he was a FBI agent because of the way he acted.

The next is…oh, it breaks my heart to say this, but I couldn’t really connect with Amy Adams’ performance either. To be honest, I was and still am happy for her Globe win because I actually think that she’s a talented actress who probably deserves awards recognition someday. I really loved her performance in Junebug and even her very limited role in The Master resonated with me better than Anne Hathaway’s blatant oscar baiting performance. So I’m kinda glad that people are loving her performance here….which is good, but not really outstanding. I felt that the really problem here was that her character becomes quite badly written in the second half; it’s like, she has no relevance to the plot whatsoever. Remember when I was complaining about the useless character arcs? Well I was basically talking about her relationship with Cooper’s character. Sure, she gets to do a whole lot of stuff like screaming on a toilet like she was taking the dump of her life, and have a big confession scene where she gets to smash Cooper’s head with a photo frame…but after that, I was just like…ok? So what? I can see that she really developed and acted the part quite well but at the end of the day I just couldn’t care. I feel like the film could do without this segment and it wouldn’t make a difference. I still ❤ Amy though, but I'd be honestly quite surprised if she wins the Oscar over Cate Blanchett or even Sandra Bullock (Yes, you're reading this correctly :p).

Jennifer Lawrence's performance and career is becoming very divisive these days, which seems to be the case for any rising starlet who shoots to fame a bit too fast. I must admit, I don't love her but I actually really like her performances a lot in general. Sure, she isn't a professionally trained actress, and her line deliveries can be a bit off sometimes, but I like how she makes up for what she lacks technically by trusting her instincts and injecting her interesting/charismatic personality into her roles. Yes, she’s not a perfect actress, but I honestly feel that she’s more self confident than a lot of professionally trained actors today, who tend to be quite self aware sometimes. I feel like I'm the sole supporter of her Oscar winning performance, which I'll go on to say that I love more than Winter's Bone. Call me crazy :p So anyway, her performance here is a hit and miss, it seems, but I thought that she was very good for the most part. Imo, she really nailed the unstable and unpredictable nature of the character and she was damn funny at times, such as the microwave scene and the "power of intention". The main problem here was that I didn't think she really captured the vulnerable side of the character very well; the first scene where she was telling Bale that she was not getting a divorce wasn't really good…she seemed a bit lost and over acted a little there ("We fell MADLY in love" O.o) but her confrontation scene with Amy Adams ("I know who that is, Irving") was fantastic. It wasn't a very well-written scene imo but she pulled it off with that kiss and that slightly maniacal laughter. I used to find the final confrontation scene quite badly acted but now I totally feel like it was meant to be this way because the character actually knew she screwed up so she was desperately coming up with a show ("All I wanted was for you to LOVE ME!") to cover up her mistake. It was great, but I wished she could have injected a bit more of the character's loneliness and pain into that one. All in all, I don't hate the performance, but I don't love it either. I think it's good, despite the flaws here and there.

Jeremy Renner would have been a better nominee than Cooper, I feel, but I kinda understand why he was overlooked because he had less to do. Still, he managed to show how the character was painfully betrayed by Irving and in my opinion that whole scene alone was better than Cooper's entire performance.

And finally, Christian Bale gave what I consider the best performance of all the nominated ones. His reactions felt the most genuine, be it his exasperation towards what ever that's going on around him, or his immense guilt that was very wells do subtly built up towards the end to make the confrontation scene with Renner very heartbreaking ("I just wanted to make things right"). I was never really a fan of Christian Bale, to be honest. I mean, I really respect him a lot (the way he loses and gain weight for his role is INSANE dedication) but I find that he's a bit guilty of scenery chewing sometimes (The Fighter). Some people think that he seems to only play grouchy, angst-ridden men, which is true to a certain degree but I thought he was really good here. His performance was honestly the one I could sympathize with the most, it's just a pity that despite being the lead, he wasn't given as much to do as toilet-screaming Amy, microwave-destroying Jennifer and coke head Bradley.

So to conclude, AH is unfortunately, a good but rather overrated film in my book. The fact that it's accused as blatant oscar baiting doesn't bother me because I actually think that the story and movie really had potential to be great; however, the whole thing just feels like a missed opportunity, even for the actors. 3/5

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