Posts Tagged ‘Bradley Cooper’

American Hustle, the new film from David O’Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), has ridden a wave of good press and nominations, both Golden Globe and now BAFTAs, owing to a stellar cast and string of good form from the director. Intriguingly, despite being billed from its trailers as a crime-thriller, based on the controversial late 70’s ABSCAM sting which imprisoned several US politians, it’s nominated in the best musical or comedy category at the Golden Globes and this is perhaps an important distinction to make in approaching this film.

For American Hustle is a riotously funny film, it’s tone arriving from the offset with the faux-disclaimer “Some of this actually happened”. This is due in no small part to its central players, each turning in excellent performances in what feels to be somewhat of a victory lap in first viewing, each enveloping their sleazy and seedy caricatures. Christian Bale dives head-first into his performance as Irving Rosenfeld, an overweight, balding, small-time con-man, working in the shadow of his accomplice and lover Sydney Prosser played by the always irrepressible Amy Adams. Elsewhere Bradley Cooper is excellent as the creepy and volatile FBI agent Richie DiMaso and Jennifer Lawrence practically lights up and steals every scene she’s in as Rosalyn, the obsessive housewife of Rosenfeld.

Much of the humour comes from a reportedly largely-improvised script, with highlights including a then primitive Microwave, here lovingly ascribed as a “Science Oven” given by Camden, New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) to Irving. Equally, cameos from Louis C.K as Bradley Cooper’s chief superior and Robert de Niro as mob boss Victor Tellegio lead to many brilliant scenes. C.K turns up his awkwardness ratchet as the nervous and frequently overpowered supposed superior of Cooper’s DiMaso and features a running joke between the two of a cheesy background fable which never gets completed.

At it’s most interesting, American Hustle is a film about performance. The characters are all cheats playing people that are bigger than their boots. Irving is actually reluctant to go too big with his operations, understanding that being a small-time operator conning desperate men out of their remaining 5k is enough to get by; but he knows how to play his role, shown in the opening shot of him delicately preparing his costume (comb-over), which we see repeatedly from each of the main characters.

This applies none more so, however, than to Adams’ Sydney Prosser, who creates an exotic allure in order to entice these desperate men under her power as Lady Edith Greensley of “British nobility”. Adams’ British accent is at once-convincing, but wavers as the narrative progresses, knowing that it will go largely unquestioned in seedy America. Comparatively the Mexican FBI agent Paco Hernandez (Michael Peña), employed to play the Sheik who’s “money” is the driving force of the plot, is intentionally less convincing. The decreasing quality of Sydney’s accent seems plausible in this story of acting, not just because of Adams’ strength as an actor, but because the film allows that doubt to exist.

The problem with American Hustle however, is that, while it has some powerhouse performances, much like Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, it in fact outweighs the film itself. While the initial set-up of the film is charming; Irving and Sydney’s blossoming sexual and professional relationship, Richie’s entrapment of them, Rosalyn’s neglect as a result of all of the above, the plot to entrap politicians and connected gangsters from taking bribes starts rolling, it begins to feel a little unfocused and lifeless.

As a result, tonally the film is a bit of a mess. While it remains highly amusing throughout, the emotional connection to any of these characters, bar perhaps Rosalyn, gets lost amongst the laughs. Once the film finally reaches its conclusion, for it is overly long, there is no real pay-off. The effect of seeing Sydney and Irving’s final plotting at work is largely dulled as the emotional connection and threat has disconnected. De Niro’s appearance is the only purveyor of any sense of danger for a brief time, but his motivations are unclear. Meanwhile  we are constantly told that Mayor Polito is acting for the good of the people, but the message is muddled in preachiness.

There’s a painful lack of back-story to truly engage with any of these characters, the largely pathetic Ritchie in particular, and though that may seem reasonable with con-men & women, there’s no real reason to care whether they succeed or fail at the films close. It’s a shame because, for all the excellent performances, soundtrack, costume and even the occasionally interesting but inconsistent cinematography, the film just feels a bit empty. Perhaps it is crucial the word American appears in the title, for this truly was an American scandal, and it’s effect, like Sydney’s accent, is lost in translation.

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They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

– Philip Larkin

With blunt simplicity, the esteemed British poet sums up generation after generation of family life. In his latest film, The Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance takes Larkin’s verse to heart. The writer-director’s breakthrough film Blue Valentine established him as a film maker with a grip on the heart strings, preying on the uncertainties and paranoia of a flailing relationship. It was an unusual film in that it spanned across a large time frame, detailing the highs and lows of a marriage in uncompromising detail. There was more in common with the character driven films of ’70’s Hollywood that Bob Rafelson and John Cassavetes used to make.

While Blue Valentine flourished in its intimacy, here Cianfrance is working with a much bigger canvas and the strokes are much broader. The film essentially revolves around three sections, focusing on the divergent fortunes of two families whose lives seep in and out of one another. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a tearaway stunt motorcyclist performing around the country. When one of his flings with Romina (Eva Mendes) results in a child, Luke takes it upon himself to settle down in Schenectady, New York and try to provide for his new son. Finding his skill set limited, Luke is persuaded by petty criminal Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to use his driving experience to rob the local banks.

Meanwhile, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a young rookie officer eager to make his mark on the world. His background in law and a dedication to his young family makes him an anomaly in a corrupt police department, thus beginning his struggle to maintain a clear conscience in the face of amoral practice. A chance encounter with Luke’s reckless bank robber leads the two on a mammoth saga that spans the generations. The Place Beyond The Pines is an ambitious, richly layered film that excels both as a crime saga and a family drama.

Gosling, the go to heart throb of indie cinema, gives a typically commanding performance as Luke. He seems to have mastered the ‘cocky young player with the damaged soul’ to perfection. While his role is relatively short, he casts a shadow over the rest of the film that leaves the audience looking back toward him for answers. Bradley Cooper is nuanced and heartfelt, conveying the inner angst of someone fighting against the system and his own inner demons. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Mendelsohn’s needy loner and Ray Liotta’s calculating officer.

Cianfrance again opts for an almost documentary like aesthetic, the shaky camera work mirroring the rawness of the characters emotions. He also proves himself as an able director of action; the motorcycle scenes are filmed with a blistering ferocity and tension. Alternative icon Mike Patton delivers an affecting, offbeat score, relying on melancholic, echoing piano notes and ominous guitar interludes to maintain the ambience. Elsewhere an achingly beautiful Ennio Morricone piece elevates scenes of catharsis to an almost religious fervour.

The Place Beyond The Pines is not a perfect film; the final section lacks the gravitas as the two that went before it, and is a little too neat its climax. If the film had previously established the cyclical effects of a damaged upbringing, then the third act makes it all too literal. However, its sprawling, ambitious scope is admirable and invigorating, the characters vivid and human and the narrative conflicts juicy and engaging. Cianfrance achieves a great juggling act of realistic personal drama and operatic crime thrills. Now Cianfrance has established himself at this level, it’s exciting to see where he will go next.

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