Posts Tagged ‘Christian Bale’

‘It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.’

This quote from the writer Raymond Carver seems very apt when we approach the work of Terrence Malick. Malick has a way of drawing attention to somewhat ordinary things, fragments of everyday life, and making them seem wondrous. After watching his latest film, my path home through London took on a different feeling; the tiled skyscrapers appeared majestic and untouchable, the empty tube and escalators eerie and mysterious. Even with a lesser work as Knight of Cups, Malick has the ability to make the audience see the world in a different way.

Christian Bale plays Rick, the jaded Hollywood screenwriter at the heart of the film, a stoic, passive observer of the insanity around him. His world is full of lavish, hedonistic parties at picturebook mansions and an endless stream of wild beauties. People seem to flow in and out of his life like ocean waves; his tyrannical father (Brian Dennehy), his errant brother (Wes Bentley) and saintly ex-wife (Cate Blanchett). There is a portentous voiceover by Ben Kingsley, reciting The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, detailing a man’s descent into hell and ultimate salvation.

Continuing on from the improvisation of To the Wonder, Malick has appeared to strip away all forms of conventional storytelling, relying on sound and image to conjure a mood. Rick is near mute throughout the film, with snippets of breathless narration the only illumination of his character. It is somewhat sad how the last two films in Malick’s oeuvre have progressed. He was once noted for his ability to illicit strong, memorable performances from his actors, yet now he seems to use them as mere floating, emoting mannequins. The pompous narration does little to assuage this disconnect; it is difficult to feel anything for these characters.

What is frustrating about Knight of Cups is that it is a genuinely beautiful film. There are countless images that other film makers scrabble their whole lives for, yet there is an overwhelming feeling of emptiness, of banality. The relentless beauty becomes dulling, and because there is no emotional connection with the characters or the story, they become shallow. I never thought I would use ‘shallow’ to describe a Malick film, but there we are. DOP Emmanuel Lubezki’s camerawork is again astounding, roaming and swooping, ducking and diving, swirling and twirling, but we may have come to a point when it might actually be a hindrance to Malick.

Lubezki’s collaboration with Malick has been the most notable change in his recent career, and it has been an exceedingly rich meeting of minds. However, Lubezki’s eye is beginning to overpower the story, or what little there is of it. The sprawling improvisation that Lubezki has allowed Malick seems to have dulled his senses- perhaps Malick needs to go back to basics for his next one. The still framing of Badlands and Days of Heaven, a more linear structure, more causal development of characters. In Knight of Cups, there is a feeling that Malick has indulged himself too much, much like the central protagonist Rick.

There are some redeeming points to the film. Hanan Townshend’s score is playful and nuanced, giving this contemporary story a classical, mythical grounding. Some images will linger in the mind, even if they are somewhat literal, such as the canine diving into the luminescent pool, yearning to gets its jaws around an elusive ball. It is an obvious metaphor for Rick’s own struggle to find meaning, always clutching out for something more. Sadly, we find Malick in a similar mode, reaching out for greatness and falling at the last moment.

 

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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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As this review was published following the release of The Dark Knight Rises we would first and foremost like to express our sympathies to all of those affected by the Aurora premier tragedy.

Returning to the Batman franchise for the final time Christopher Nolan offers up The Dark Knight Rises. Dredging the emotional depths of Batman Begins and blending in the thrills of The Dark Knight, Batman’s final stand is a muscular epic, which successfully pulls its own monumental weight.

Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Christian Bale) story picks up eight years after his battle with The Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight. Grief stricken at the loss of his sweetheart Rachel Dawes, Wayne has abandoned his playboy reputation and become a mythic recluse to the people of Gotham. When terror attacks rock Gotham Wayne considers revisiting the Bat suit, but his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) fears Wayne’s own self-destructive tendencies may lead him to defeat.

Alfred Hitchcock once said “the better the villain, the better the film”. Christopher Nolan’s challenge for The Dark Knight Rises was to apply Hitchcock’s theory, in the shadow of Ledger’s show stealing Joker. This time Nolan opts for muscular terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), a criminal mastermind constantly pumped with a strength serum via an intimidating facemask. He is a considerable threat to the fragile Wayne, with a deep-seated conviction against Gotham’s culture of corruption. He plans to nuke Gotham city and wipe the slate clean.

While lacking some of the infectious charisma of Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy’s Bane is wholly compelling. Hardy personifies the character with bulging muscles and an air of worldly wisdom: he is well spoken, yet he phrases with an accent inspired by Traveller and bare-knuckle boxer Bartley Gorman. Hardy’s Bane is an odd proposition, but he is a convincingly vengeful outsider; this makes him all the more dangerous to tattered billionaire Bruce Wayne.

As well as staple characters like Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred, Nolan introduces other characters to ultimately explore Batman’s scarred psyche. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) challenges Batman to delve deeper inside himself to fight Bane. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stands out as a young cop who revitalises Batman’s responsibilities. Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) exploits the corporate weakness of Wayne Enterprises’, while Wayne entrusts the seductive Miranda (Marion Cotillard) to look after his interests.

But all is not perfect upon Nolan’s return to Gotham. In spite of the film’s apocalyptic intentions, there is a sense that it has been heavily toned done to achieve the 12A rating. When Bane and Batman brawl we expect serious bloodshed, but the fight scenes feel unmistakably muted making Batman’s peril less immediate. The script also sidesteps some serious logical concerns, in favour of narrative pace, and key characters are given fatally insufficient screen time for the same reason.

Another aspect that leaves an empty feeling is the complete lack of The Joker. While the character need not have appeared portrayed by another actor, many references to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight occur in flashback; Heath Ledger’s Joker should have too. The character made a sincere impression on Batman and we feel his presence, but cannot acknowledge it.

In spite of its flaws however, The Dark Knight Rises is a true cinematic accomplishment. Christopher Nolan has graced us with a mature blockbuster with a majestic scale reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Nolan has also achieved the essential with this film: he has returned the resonance to Bruce Wayne and to Batman. The Dark Knight’s ironic flaw was that the villain ultimately undermined the hero. With The Dark Knight Rises Batman sincerely captures our hearts and minds like he never has before.

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Following our previous post The Dark Knight Rises trailer #2 has been released officially online.

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