INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS – Film Review by Paul Laight

**CONTAINS CLIPS & SPOILERS**

It’s always a good reason to carry on living when you know Joel and Ethan Coen are bringing out a new film. Their sophisticated melding of genre and art movies are always beautifully shot and carefully constructed  with terrific scripts and casts.  They also have an inimitable quirkiness, memorable characters and a fantastic use of music. Even their remakes are generally better than most filmmakers’ “original” offerings.  What I’m saying is that I really wanted to enjoy Inside Llewyn Davis  and do you know what: Inside Llewyn Davis rocked. Well, it melodically swayed to its’ own harmonious beat.

The Coen Bros.  last film was the impressive big budget remake of John Wayne horse-opera True Grit (2010) while Inside Llewyn Davis is a lower-budget affair with more akin to their dark character comedies Barton Fink (1991) and A Serious Man (2009). It centres on eponymous anti-heroic folk-musician Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) as he struggles with both his personal and professional life on a day-to-day basis in 1960s New York.  He’s not a likeable character but is a wonderful musician with an earthy if not wholly commercial talent.  Here the film works as companion piece to Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown (1999) which was also about a talented but far more scummy jazz musician.

The Coen Bros. often place their characters in interesting settings e.g.  the snowy landscapes of Fargo (1996);  or give them jobs not usually seen in movies such as the Barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) and Gym Instructors in Burn After Reading (2008); or hobbies like the bowling dudes in The Big Lebowski (1998).  Moreover, they are also very fond of period pieces and have featured the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s etc. within their oeuvre; in fact the only era they may not have covered is the future. Inside Llewyn Davis is a nostalgia-filled journey back in time to the 60s folk and smoke-filled, bohemian, beatnik back bars of Greenwich Village, New York. I don’t know much about this period of Americana but it is a time that is beautifully evoked and stunningly designed; browns and beiges dominating a cool yet also warm wintry palette. It is a expertly crafted simulacrum that never slips into parody either as shown in the songs used which are faithful renditions of traditional and original numbers.

Episodic in structure the film drifts like couch-surfing Llewyn Davis introducing us to a whole new set of Coenesque eccentrics. Our ‘hero’ is an archetypal rolling stone gathering no moss but rather a whole host of issues. These problems range from a missing neighbour’s cat, pregnant “girlfriend”, homelessness, family dysfunction, indifferent agent, lack of money and career prospects.  Described as an anti-Midas by Carey Mulligan’s very angry Jean, Llewyn’s life has stalled and while he plays and sings beautifully he is more menstrual than minstrel. He’s a rather pathetic character drifting through life having seemingly fallen out of love with music despite still pursuing a career as a solo artist.   Throughout, actor Oscar Isaac delivers a phenomenal performance full of anger, pain and heart all with an underlying glint of sly humour.

As someone who has been in a band when I was young and someone who continues to try a forge some semblance of a path as a filmmaker and comedian I recognised much of the jaded feelings the character experienced and empathised with the continual rejections he faced. But I also felt distanced as in my opinion one should relax a bit and enjoy the journey. Llewyn Davis has a gift — more talented than I could ever hope — but is a character that is depressed by his current existence and nothing seems to be able to shake him out of the funk. There is an air of self-destructiveness, anger and bitterness too which affects his relationships with the decent group of people around who try to help him. The Coen Bros. have in the past been accused of making films that lack heart. I never agreed with that but could see why people may see their work as more style than substance. This film strums away such accusations with a truly mesmerising character study full of heart and soul and regret and fear, humour and emotion.

On the surface the film could be described as a “musician trying to make it” film but underneath it’s about loss and grief in my view; loss of a career following the death of his double-act partner, loss of direction, loss of love for music.   Part mood-poem, part-road-movie, part-musical, part-comedy it has a brilliant cast and some wonderful acting and musical performances.  I’m not a fan of folk music per se, and have little knowledge of the era but that didn’t matter as this is a gem of a film; a cyclical-structured study of loss about an unlovable loser and struggling artist with a bit of Greek tragedy thrown in. If you love the Coen Bros. you’ll certainly love Llewyn Davis.

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) – Film Review by Paul Laight

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS + CLIPS**

The artist/director Steve McQueen is a very important filmmaker and his films to date include the searing character study of Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008) and the pulverising sex-addict study of Shame (2011).  His latest epic is another intense offering based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.  Indeed, in just 3 feature films McQueen has proven himself a genuine cinematic artist and a beacon of real quality and must-see drama.

Whereas Sands in Hunger was driven by political motives and Sullivan in Shame unable to control his animal instincts then Northup’s character is a family man, a proud and free individual living with his wife and child in Washington.  It is there that the story cross-cuts with later events and Solomon’s unjust capture into slavery. He is a dedicated family man and his character is epitomised at the beginning when he turns down the sexual advances of a female captive; my understanding being he could not compromise his fidelity despite being imprisoned in this Louisiana hell.

From the start you’re really rooting for Northup as he is shown to be intelligent, musical and scholarly gentlemen both proud and faithful.  His kidnapping is a press-ganging of the most heinous kind as he led away from Washington with the promise of lucrative work then tricked when seemingly at his most content. The subsequent journey through the plantations of New Orleans is a most despicable crime against humanity and McQueen shows this is many scenes of physical, verbal and mental abuse perpetrated against Northup and other characters.  Here pain and suffering has never looked so beautiful with stunning cinematography by Sean Bobbitt. It’s a story of sunshine and pain with McQueen utilizing Northup’s life microcosmically in regard to the slave movement as a whole.

The cast are incredible from Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the leading role of Northup to evil slave-zealot Michael Fassbender, benign yet complicit Benedict Cumberbatch and many more including Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, standing out in supporting roles. It has received nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for McQueen, and Best Actor for Ejiofor, and Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, and Best Supporting Actress for Nyong’o and I would be shocked if it doesn’t win something.

McQueen treats the subject matter with the reverence and power it deserves and literally paints a brutal, inhumane and devastating set of images with which to tell the story. He often favours long takes notably the scene where Solomon hangs clinging by his toenails to life. This is a stand-out iconic scene and it is too much to bear because we have so much invested in Solomon’s character by this stage and really want his suffering to end.  But that’s where Fassbender’s Epps enters the play and the intensity is ratcheted up and then some.

For well over an hour 12 Years a Slave is majestic filmmaking of the highest quality. Northup’s characterisation is incredible, however, this is to the detriment of the other characters who dip in and out of the narrative notably Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ford, who to me was the most interesting of the white slavers as he appeared to be a compassionate man trapped within a vicious societal circle of hate.  Fassbender’s maniacal Epps I feel deserved a better introduction because even though the actor is once again breath-taking I felt the performance MORE than the actual character.  The two wives of the slavers were one-dimensional and interchangeably evil, plus, I was disappointed Paul Dano’s character left the narrative too early.  The major casting disappointment is the glory-hunting role Brad Pitt gave himself as the kind Canadian carpenter who assists Northup in his quest to escape.  Pitt is a great movie star and I love his work but he’s too big in my opinion to appear so late in such a story as this.  I was deeply involved only to suddenly be reminded I was watching a Hollywood movie.

Steve McQueen is a master craftsmen and has made a near-flawless work of cinema even though I must admit the ending left me very frustrated.  There is power and emotion for all to see but I wanted more satisfaction for Northup’s character and some kind of retribution to be dealt to his captors. McQueen had cooked up such an intense soup of pain and suffering I wanted more of a release. Indeed, it seemed quite a passive denouement to me especially when compared to a film such as Glory (1989) and the Roman Slave action epic Spartacus (1960). However, this is a more personal epic and the filmmakers have clearly stayed true to the honour of the original book so my personal desire for cinematic revenge on the slavers will just have to be met by Tarantino’s dancing-horse-bad-ass-Blaxploitation-Western Django Unchained (2012) I suppose.

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) – Movie Review by Paul Laight

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) – Movie Review by Paul Laight

**PLEASE NOTE THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS – NOT THAT IT MATTERS AS THE PLOT IS LIFTED WHOLESALE FROM THE MATRIX ANYWAY**

Have you ever been urinated on from a great height with lemonade while simultaneously being crapped on by a chocolate log?  No, nor have I. But in my mind that’s what watching the sweet sickly Diabetes: The Motion Picture AKA The Lego Movie (2014) felt like to me. Not for a while have I failed to enjoy a film so much yet admired the technical expertise and all-round skills of the makers involved.

Is it the film’s fault or mine?  I am a jaded cynic but usually I can put that aside when reviewing family movies like this and analyse the story objectively but I can’t do it this time for some reason.  I just couldn’t shrug off the feeling I was watching one long one-hundred-minute advert for Lego Co. Corp. PLC. I had the choice to either give in to the Matrix or resist it.  I resisted and wish I hadn’t because after I felt like I’d been on a rollercoaster having just drank eighteen Oreo milkshakes. Thus, as an objective reviewer I have failed.  I remember when product placement was subtle. Not anymore. This and the recent Google film The Internship (2013) have moved the goalposts; so much so there no one knows where the goal is anymore or the pitch.

The story involves Emmet Brickowski, an ordinary construction worker, who falls into a hole and finds the mystical Piece of Resistance. Various factions then pursue Emmet including the Master Builders led by Wizard Vitruvius (good) and — winging-it Will Ferrell — Lord Business (bad).  The Piece of Resistance acts as the archetypal Macguffin as we are led through a cavalcade of Lego Worlds and Lego characters lifted wholesale from popular culture including: Batman, Gandalf, Wonder Woman etc.  Emmet is given a reasonable character arc as he moves from someone who always follows instructions to someone who can use his imagination and become the ‘Chosen One’ blah, blah, blah!  Throw in a romantic subplot and you basically have The Matrix (1999) but in Lego form.

The film opens really well with a satirical dig at a homogenised society not too dissimilar to ours while the colourful sets, fast-paced action and imaginative set-pieces really drive the movie forward. But unlike the genius of Pixar I did not care for one moment who did what and what was going on.  In fact, there was TOO MUCH going on and it was happening too fast to take on board.  The most interesting character for me was Liam Neeson’s Bad Cop as he had some element of duality plus there’s some fine gags in there especially at the expense of Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight.  But by the end I felt ill as it lays on a glaucomic message within its mildly intelligent but very obvious final act reveal.

The Lego Movie (2014) is basically Ketamine-for-Kids storytelling; capitalism at its most insidious.  Vacuum-packed product placement wrapped beautifully in state-of-the-art animation and an overly-knowing and satirical script. The filmmakers deserve much credit for their genius in making a presentable bit of entertainment out of a soulless toy brick.  These extended moving billboards are the movies of the future, made by uber-smart college geniuses with no life experience; incubated in a shiny, postmodern void with no heart, soul, nor humanity.

I remember Lego being the best creative brick type toy you could play with when growing up. Then as I got older and had a kid myself I recall screaming in agony as I trod on it barefoot, quickly followed by a performance of a hate-filled Native American swear-dance. Only then for my son to get bored with Lego when he discovered Xbox and it was consigned to the attic to  gather dust. Now Lego is back puking all over the cinema with colours and sounds and a horrifically and deliberately repetitive song. No!  Everything is not awesome.  And I know the film is striving for satire on our conformist and capitalist times but it does it while conforming to the most horrific section of capitalism: namely advertising.   The Lego Movie (2014) is Nazi-efficient filmmaking of the highest quality.  The kids will love it.  But you have a choice: to take the red or blue pill. I took the red pill. I wish I had just given in but there’s still resistance in my jaded mind. Damn you brain – damn you to hell!

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING  

**THIS CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS, CLIPS and REFERENCE TO ADULT LOVE DOLLS**

To compliment my post last week which featured films with dark or extreme love, today I am hailing the romantic impact of movie heartthrob Ryan Gosling.

#1  – DRIVE (2011)

This is a very romantic film with great chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan. It is also uber-cool with Gosling doing his post-modern Steve McQueen thing really well while Mulligan does sweetness personified.  It’s very pure cinema with minimal dialogue and just a longing, passionate look here or there to drive the love story.  Winding Refn is known for his brutal and violent films and this one erupts at the end but The Driver’s motivation is not revenge but rather protection of loved ones; namely Mulligan’s single mum and son.  Is there anything more romantic on screen than killing to protect the one’s you love?

#2 – LARS & THE REAL GIRL (2007)

This is such an original, quirky and goddamn touching movie.  Gosling’s character – sporting a Pupkin style moustache – has had some kind of personality breakdown and in an attempt to comfort himself he purchases a ‘human’ doll online. So far so weird.  He then treats her as he would a real girlfriend.  What is amazing is that the townsfolk where he lives also join in the “make-believe” and slowly but surely Bianca (playing herself) becomes part of the community.  The writer/filmmakers could have gone down a road of smut and low-brow humour but instead deliver a really humble and slyly humorous portrayal of grief, mental breakdown and loneliness. Gosling is understated brilliance throughout but it’s the Doll which steals the acting honours.


#3 – BLUE VALENTINE (2010)

This is one of the most realistic portrayals of a relationship ever committed to the screen.  It features the beginning, middle and end of Gosling and Michelle Williams’ love for each other; although not necessarily in that order.  The chemistry between the two is electric and it is so painful to see a couple break apart as they do by the end, having witnessed such a beautiful coming together previously.  What I loved about the film was the humanity of the relationship showing both men and women as both negatives and positives in the story.  Both romantic and heart-breaking in equal measure this is definitely not a film to watch on your own on Valentine’s Day having just broken up with someone.


#4 – CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011)

I really enjoyed this ensemble comedy from the writers of Bad Santa. A  sexy looking cast full of fine young and mature Hollywood talent was very much a surprising like for me.  There was pleasant chemistry between Carell’s downtrodden husband and his wife played by the ever-lovely Julianne Moore and fine cameos from Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei.   Gosling nicely satirises his Hollywood heartthrob good looks playing a gigolo who is able to conquer women with the merest flutter of his get-your-kit-off eyes. The scenes where he trains Carell’s romantic loser up as a womaniser are funny and a nice reversal of the usual Hollywood cliches which show an older man training up a young rookie.  Emma Stone is pretty hot too and can act as she showed in the films Easy A (2009), Zombieland (2010)  and The Help (2011). Her scenes with Gosling are very funny and I liked her feisty character as she actually steals his heart by initially refusing to give in to his ample charms.  


#5 – THE NOTEBOOK (2004)

I am a massive cynic and it takes a lot to melt my iceberg heart but this film attacks you with not one, but TWO heartfelt, tear-jerking stories interweaved simultaneously.   Based on super-schmaltzy literary work of Nicholas Sparks I’d kind of avoided watching it but am glad I succumbed as it is a lovely film. It’s the kind of movie you enjoy watching with the heating cranked up while the rain smashes down outside.  In the present an elderly couple attempt to reconnect despite her Alzheimer’s, while in the past a young chap from the wrong sides of the tracks tries to woo a Southern Belle despite her families protestations.  It’s a sensory overload of sloppy sentimentality and black-belt romance clichés but the film fully embraces these conventions, telling us in the process that love for another human is the main reason for living.  The cast are breath-taking including Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner and Gena Rowlands and they really raise the material above the standard Mills and Boon plot. It’s easy to dismiss Nicholas Sparks’ writing but it is phenomenally successful so you have to admire his and the filmmakers’ ability to make such cheesy romance so highly entertaining.  This film embodies the definition of a guilty pleasure in my (note)book.

BLOODY VALENTINE: EXTREME DATE MOVIES

YOUR BLOODY VALENTINE:  EXTREME DATE MOVIES by PAUL LAIGHT

**THIS THING CONTAINS CLIPS, SPOILERS AND VAGUELY SATIRICAL SEXIST LANGUAGE**

It’s Valentines soon and being an unoriginal hack I started thinking about my favourite romantic movies.  30 seconds later I got bored so decided to write a different kind of list. So, if you want an alternative to the usual Valentines-clichéd-cosy-rose-petal-drenched-chocolate-card-Love-Actually-rip-off-Day – here you go!

Basically, it’s an excuse to list some great movies with elements of extreme love. And violence. And horror. My kind of cinema.


SIGHTSEERS (2012)

The perfect date movie. I promise.  There’s romance, soul-searching and bloody murder.  This is one of the best British films released in a long while. I hate it when writers say a movie is “something meets something”  but this is like Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May meets Kalifornia, kind of.  I hate myself for saying that. Just watch it.


SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009)

This is one of the best films you haven’t seen.  Or maybe you have. It rightly won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2010.  It has so many great elements: a vicious murder mystery, obsessive pursuit, revenge, political espionage and a painfully touching love story at its’ heart.


AUDITION (1999)

As date-movies go this is a real screamer.  What starts as one man’s attempt to find a wife via his own creepy version of the casting couch is turned into a violent proto-feminist-carve-up-par-excellence!  I’ve dated a couple of nutters before but not like this. You won’t look at a hessian sack the same way again.  Or cheese wire.  Or open your eyes ever again after seeing  this.




TEETH (2007)

Mixing comedy with coming-of-age movies this is a brilliant little horror film.  A girl with Jaws in her vagina starts cutting men’s cocks off!  Who said romance was dead eh?  She did – that’s who!


IRREVERSIBLE (2002)

Just one of the most brutal and beautiful love stories ever told on film.


MISERY (1990)

I still think that if Annie Wilkes hadn’t been such a violent mentalist her and Paul Sheldon may have had a chance of romance.  But she was and love for Kathy Bates and James Caan’s characters was not to be. Shame. Despite the torture they were such a lovely couple.


HAROLD & MAUDE (1971)

A story for outsiders as young man, slightly off-kilter Harold, falls in love with free-spirited octogenarian, Maude. It’s a wonderfully dark comedy full of brilliant scenes especially Harold’s fake “suicide” attempts. But the chemistry between Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon is really touching. Ruth Gordon proved in this and Rosemary’s Baby what a great actor she was.


SNOWTOWN (2011)

Your boyfriend or girlfriend are giving you the hump and you want to pump and dump them.  What do you do?  Sit them down while you watch this movie while sharpening your carving knife collection.  You won’t see them for dust!  Jokes aside this Aussie serial-killer movie is one of the darkest films I have seen in a long while. Brutal, grim and worst of all based on a true story.


EVIL DEAD (1981)

You go to a cabin in the woods hoping to get a bit of sugar from your girlfriend  and accidentally raise a Canderian demon using the Book Of The Dead.  Don’t you just hate it when that happens!  I know I do!


LES DIABOLIQUES (1955)

Watch this French film and Psycho in a double bill and you’ll never ever go into the bathroom again.  This is an absolute classic and they genuinely do not make them like this anymore.   Mainly because it’s in black and white, oh, and it has a story, suspense, plot-twists and doesn’t rely on green-screen-CGI-Superhero-blowing-shit-up!


THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011)

As retribution goes Antonio Banderas’ vendetta in this takes some beating.  It’s a slow burner but the pay off is incredible as Pedro Almodovar movie combines: science-fiction, horror, melodrama, psychological torture etc. to create a date movie you won’t forget.   Banderas is a revelation in a role which turns his usual romantic leading man status on its head as he seeks transformative revenge.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) – Paul Laight’s Movie Review

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) – Paul Laight’s Movie Review

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS + MOVIE CLIPS PLUS REFERENCES TO SEX, DRUG USE, GREED & BRILLIANT FILMMAKING**

To say The Wolf of Wall Street has its coke and eats it is a massive understatement. It’s black-belt-bukakke movie-making of the highest order. A voracious sexy beast of a film which showers the audience with one incredible scene of excess after the other.  To put it bluntly: it’s Goodfellas fucks Scarface and Wall Street then gives birth to a movie bastard of epic proportions.

Based on a memoir by disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort –  a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-par-excellence – The Wolf of Wall Street  follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas as DiCaprio’s Belfort schemes and sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street.  As the superlative scene with Matthew McConaghey demonstrates the Stock Exchange is a “fugazi” – a fake.  The main aim is to make more and more money while screwing the investors.  The best traders are wolves in a vicious snakepit swimming with sharks ripping off a house of fools.

As Belfort’s firm Stratton Oakmont becomes out of control so does his wealth as he and his motley crue of traders manipulate and connive and deceive to create a monstrous company of wolves who regale in dwarf-throwing, blow-jobbing, lude-swallowing mania.  The extreme is only halfway for these people.  The superb cast including: DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jean Dujardin and Jonah Hill, play these venal cunts with such charm and humour you often find yourself complicit with their nefarious behaviour almost willing the characters to push further and further with their depravity.

But as the drug use, debauchery and money increased so did my hatred for these greedy capitalist pigs.   On the one hand I was enjoying the rollercoaster ride of the story but on the other I was horrified at the fact such people and behaviour exist on this planet.  That is the skill of the filmmakers though:  making these Wall Street monsters likeable, funny, believable and human.  Indeed, Belfort himself is ultimately a sorry figure shown to be a monstrous addict who is powerless to stop himself from indulging in every drug and hooker under the sun.  But Scorcese and DiCaprio don’t give Belfort any kind of redemption. He’s still a massive prick at the end of the film; a free prick walking the earth but just not as rich as he once was.

Martin Scorcese is one of the greatest living filmmakers still working today and The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from his other films.  You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves;  the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino and Goodfellas; the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear; the multi-character voiceovers;  the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit;   characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen most recently in The Departed; plus many many more.   But whereas Scorcese used to deal with outsiders and oddballs like Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin he is now dealing with Insiders, Gods and members of the Master-Race.  Aside from Kyle Chandler as the dedicated FBI Agent there are no honest characters in this film and at times the it feels like a depressing advert for the greed-is-good-Gordon-Gekko-philosophy.

Personally, I wanted a little more focus on the kind of crimes that were being committed plus more of comeuppance or death for Jordan Belfort.  But in real life he essentially got away with everything having served a pretty short sentence for his “pump and dump” machinations; mainly because he became a dirty rat.  I suppose the subtext of the film does ask the audience:  does this monster deserve a second chance?

But this is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. There are some great big performances and fine supporting players like: Joanna Lumley, Matthew McConaghey, John Bernthal, Rob Reiner and Spike Jonze to name a few.  But this is Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese’s film. As they demonstrated in The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island etc.  they are a formidable team.  DiCaprio deserves an Oscar for sheer consistency of performances but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it?  But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Paul Laight’s Film Review

AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) – Film Review

I was looking forward to seeing American Hustle for a number of reasons:

1)  The brilliant ensemble cast featuring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K. etc. excited me greatly.

2) I love David O. Russell’s film-works such as Flirting With Disaster (1996), The Fighter (2010), Three Kings (1999) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). I even liked I Heart Huckabees (2004), I think.

3) I love ‘con’ movies; the twisty-turny-step-sister of the crime thriller genre.  My favourites include:  The Sting (1973), Matchstick Men (2003), House Of Games (1987), The Grifters (1990) and my all-time favoritest the Argentinian con-film Nine Queens (2000).

So in short I really really wanted to enjoy American Hustle and must say I did greatly.

The plot in a nutshell finds 1970s confidence-tricksters Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) ripping off small businessmen behaving like a High Street Bank for lowlifes.  Their behaviour mirrors the sub-prime market of the Noughties; robbing the skint to fund an extravagant and hedonsitic lifestyle.  In short they are scum; in Prosser/Adam’s case very sexy scum.

Eventually, like the greedy-bastard banks Rosenfeld and Prosser go bust when they are nicked by Bradley Cooper’s hyper-permed-FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.  In order to avoid jail they agree to become ‘bait’ to help capture some bigger fish including Jeremy Renner’s family and community driven politician, Mayor Carmine Polito. That’s where the fun really begins as all manner of cons, sleight-of-hand, bribes, palm-offs, seductions, stake-raising twists and turns begin as each character tries to outwit the other with crazy scheme piled upon crazy scheme.

The film opens with a hilarious set-piece as Christian Bale’s Rosenfeld goes to work by applying his rather extravagant stunt-hair. In fact, the wig work in this film is a joy and while it’s cheap and easy pickings at the expense of stupid 70s hair and clothes I loved it. Bale is very theatrical in this movie and I would describe his performance as a masterclass in over-the-top restraint.  The application of the wig and display of his paunch are his equivalent of Laurence Olivier’s hunchy Richard III:  “An Oscar! Oscar! My dignity and six-pack for an Oscar!”

Indeed, like O. Russell’s other movies this is a real actor-fest.  He just winds them up and lets them go in one entertaining scene after another.  Amy Adams is a real vulnerable-hot-like-fire-cold-bitch while Jennifer Lawrence steals the show with her ditzy-loose-cannon-flick-hair-nut-job portrayal of Rosenfeld’s wife.  Bradley Cooper follows up his great work in Silver Linings Playbook with a fine comic turn as the delusional and over-ambitious DiMaso.  While the most naturalistic and believable character and in turn empathetic portrayal is Renner’s politician. There’s some great support too especially from Louis C.K and Jack Huston.

One would probably argue that this is more of a comedy than a drama as the film retains a sense of fun throughout with some great physical performances and a sparkling script littered with zinging one-liners.  But there is some meaty drama and a serious subtext to the movie, and like O. Russell’s Three Kings which mixed humour with war, American Hustle has a message. Admittedly it is quite well hidden amongst the wigs and funny accents but that message is America is built on the con and that while everyone is trying to out-do each other perhaps they should just work together.   The law, the gangsters, the politicians and the business folk of the United States are all on the take and the American dream is simply a pyramid scheme built on sand.  That’s what I got from it anyway.

David O. Russell takes genre movies and applies a wonderful sense of chaos to the order allowing his actors free reign to express themselves.  His films are like watching Barcelona play football inasmuch as you’re really enjoying the pretty patterns being made by the players and then bang – the ball’s in the net! This is indeed Champions League movie-making with O. Russell’s wonderful style of direction giving all the cast their moment in the sun to shine with wonderful over-the-top characterisations, wigs, costumes and performances.

American Hustle is an entertaining movie which had the audience I watched it with laughing throughout. It works best as a crime-comedy with a bit of suspense; as well as being a mildly damning indictment the American dream. Ultimately, this film shoots, hits the mark and scores!

Writer. Filmmaker. Semi-Pro Comedian. Wageslave