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Josh Reviews American Hustle

There’s no question in my mind that David O. Russell is a terrifically skilled director, and it’s been interesting seeing how his recent films have been able to blend his idiosyncratic sensibilities with a slightly more mainstream approach.  I had some problems with Silver Linings Playbook but over-all I really enjoyed the film (click here for my review), and I absolutely adored The Fighter (click here for my review).  And so it was that I entered into American Hustle with my expectations very high.  Mr. Russell had assembled a phenomenal cast, and the reviews had been near-rapturous.

But I must confess that while I found the film to be extremely well-made, I didn’t find it to be nearly as enjoyable as I had expected.  I thought the film, at two hours and 9 minutes, felt FAR longer to me than the three-hour The Wolf of Wall Street, which I saw only a few days before (click here for my review).

But let’s start with what I felt was good about the film.  The cast is indeed fantastic, and what’s particularly fun is the way almost all of the leads are playing against type.  Visually, all of these actors have changed their looks, and I’m not just talking about the humor of seeing these performers all dolled up in seventies get-up (though indeed the clothes in the film are fantastic).  I’m talking about Christian Bale, who played a super-hero, slouched over with a big gut and an outrageous comb-over.  I’m talking about handsome leading man Bradley Cooper’s jheri curl.  I’m talking about the sexed-up look of Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.  But more than their physical transformations was how well each and every one of these actors inhabited these characters.

The stand-out is Christian Bale, who absolutely vanishes into the role of con-man Irving Rosenthal.  Mr. Bale is magnetic in the role, drawing us into the scheming mind of this rather pathetic figure.  The physicality of Mr. Bale’s transformation hooks us into the character, but it is Mr. Bale’s gripping charisma that keeps us locked into this man’s story.  Bradley Cooper nails a very different kind of pathetic as the out-of-his-league FBI man, Richard DiMaso.  Mr. Cooper takes us right into the desperate ambition at DiMaso’s heart.  The first woman in Irving Rosenthal’s life who we meet in the film is Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams.  The two meet at a party, and each one quickly realizes that they have met a peculiar sort of soul-mate in the other.  Sydney gets involved in Irving’s small-time scams, pretending to be a British aristocrat, thus lending a convincing legitimacy to Irving’s scams.  But after a while … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silver Linings Playbook

Nothing in the plot description of Silver Linings Playbook really caught my attention, but the fact that it was written (adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick) and directed by David O. Russell automatically made the film something I was interested in.  I don’t love all of Mr. Russell’s films, but they’re all very interesting and unique, and I really dug his last film, The Fighter (click here for my review).  I was very pleasantly surprised to find Silver Linings Playbook to be just as enjoyable as The Fighter. The two films have a similar feel in that Mr. Russell has crafted a film that feels honest and filled with Mr. Russell’s quirky style, but also just on the right side of mainstream-crowd-pleasing.  That’s a very difficult balance to strike, and I am impressed by the skill with which Mr. Russell and his team have been able to again walk that line.

In the film, Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a young man with bipolar disorder.  At the start of the film, he is released from a mental hospital into the care of his parents.  It seems that several months prior, Pat had an “incident” caused by a confrontation with his wife (an event that is gradually explored over the course of the film).  Pat is eager to return to his old life and to patch things up with his wife, but it’s clear that he has mental and emotional issues that will not be so easy to resolve.  At a dinner with some friends, Pat meets a young widow named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).  It’s clear that Tiffany has plenty of issues of her own, though sparks immediately fly between her and Pat.  The crux of Silver Linings Playbook is the burgeoning friendship between Pat and Tiffany, and the question of whether the two of them can each get over what is going on in their own heads in order to form a successful, stable relationship with the other.

That description sounds pretty dreary and heavy (which is a large part why the film didn’t immediately interest me when I first heard about it), but Mr. Russell maintains a light touch with the material throughout.  While the film is not what I’d call a comedy, it is quite humorous, and there’s a playfulness to the proceedings that I found very endearing and engaging.  The movie is dramatic enough that we become invested in Pat and Tiffany and we feel their ups and downs, but the movie is light enough that we don’t get too bogged down in Oscar-baiting seriousness.  (And there are a few really big laughs, none better or more-earned than the moment towards the end in which … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews The Fighter

When I first heard about The Fighter, I thought “here we go again, yet another boxing movie.”  But then I realized that, though I could certainly list a TON of boxing movies, I haven’t actually seen that many of them.  I’m not at all interested in the “sport” of boxing, and though I definitely enjoy some dark, downbeat films, I’m not a big fan of a lot of violence or gore in movies.  All of which means that it’s rare for me to want to go see a boxing film.

But something about The Fighter sparked some interest in me.  Perhaps it was the cast, or perhaps it was the story of Mark Wahlberg’s years-long effort to bring the real-life story of boxer Micky Ward to life.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad I decided to see the film, because it is absolutely terrific.

Mark Wahlberg has turned in some strong performances over the past few years (even when he’s in films that I don’t really like, such as The Other Guys).  He was, for instance, absolutely brilliant in The Departed (click here for my review).  Born in Dorchester, MA, it’s clear that Mr. Wahlberg felt a strong connection to the scrappy fighter from Lowell, MA, and that shows through every moment of the performance.  Mr. Wahlberg is completely believable as a welterweight boxer, but he also brings an endearing gentleness to the portrayal.  His Micky is soft-spoken and desperately eager to please.  It’s fascinating to me that the film’s narrative arc rests on Micky learning to actually be a little bit selfish and make a decision that will do right for HIM, rather than for his mother, sisters, or brother.

Speaking of his brother (really his half-brother), as good as Mark Wahlberg is as Micky Ward, this movie absolutely 100% belongs to Christian Bale and his performance as Dicky Eklund.  Dicky was once a great boxer and “the pride of Lowell,” but now he’s a crack-addicted shambles of a man who’s convinced himself that training his brother to fight will be his road to a comeback.  Mr. Bale’s performance is mesmerizing.  Dicky is a whirlwind of tics and energy that threatens to fly apart any room or situation that he’s in.  We can see the echoes of his charisma that once made him a local hero, and that perhaps also explains why his loved ones tolerate his behavior.  And his smile.  Oh, his smile is devastating.  It conveys such warmth from the heart of this man-child, but it’s also devastatingly sad and pathetic as we quickly see what a self-destructive force Dicky has become.

(The extraordinary high esteem in which I held Christian Bale’s performance as … [continued]