Victoria Jelinek

American Hustle

American Hustle movie posterCirca 1978. Skillful con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) cut a deal with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to catch other swindlers in return for clemency. But Irving is having an affair with Sydney, and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) is a loose cannon, creating a powder keg of a situation that could derail the whole sting.

Nominated for several key awards at the Oscars this year, namely the coveted Best Picture, this film has been given a lot of positive press. Writer/Director David O’Russell has delivered fine films, such as The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook (and the leads, here, were in those films, too) but this isn’t as good as it’s touted to be. Sure, the actors are charismatic and capable, the production design is entertaining, the soundtrack is nostalgic, and there are fun costumes, as well as a lot of time devoted to amusing hairstyles – Bale’s disco comb-over, Coopers tiny curlers, Lawrence’s sweep – but there’s little point or suspense to this film. The elaborate plot attempts to address corruption in America, but repeatedly gets lost self consciously in its own chicanery. And who are the bad guys? Con men, errant politicians, and Mafia bosses are more likeable and upright in this film than the FBI operatives out to take them down. While the friend I watched American Hustle with relegated it to one of the most boring movies he has ever watched, I think it’s worth watching, particularly if you’re into slick visuals, and it’s definitely worth renting on DVD.

The Untouchables and The Tiger Brigades

This month I’ve chosen to review two gangster films for you to compare and contrast. Both stories are based on true events that took place in the early 20th century; both films are adapted from popular TV series in their respective countries, the US and France; and both films’ groups of heroes have catchy nicknames – Les Incorruptibles and Les Brigades du Tigre.

Les Incorruptibles (The Untouchables)

FBI agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is going to bring down Al Capone (Robert De Niro), a powerful gangster and bootlegger in 1920’s Chicago.

Based on a 1950’s television series, which was itself based on the true story of the treasury agents who took on organised crime in Prohibition Chicago, this is an amazing film that in ‘old school’ Hollywood fashion, is a collaboration of great talent: it’s written by David Mamet with simply drawn heroes and villains, and crisp, clever lines; it’s directed by Brian De Palma and shot on an epic cinematic scale; the soundtrack is Ennio Morricone; Giorgio Armani designed the costumes; it stars Sean Connery, always wonderful, and who won an Oscar for this role; Kevin Costner is perfectly cast as the classically good looking ‘everyman’; and De Niro–in typical fastidious method acting, took himself to Italy just before filming to devour pasta, bloating out his face to match the famously lurid beach-ball head of Al Capone, and found the tailors that Capone used and had identical suits and silk underwear fitted–is pitch perfect as Capone.

Even as this film has a great script, exquisite direction, superb performances, and creates an authentic feel of 1920’s Chicago, it’s fundamentally a hugely entertaining crime drama and simple escapism.

Les Brigades du Tigre (The Tiger Brigades)

Set in 1912, this film is about the exploits of France’s first motorized police brigade, nicknamed the Tiger Brigades, and in particular, the daring group’s first assignment to neutralize crime leader Jules Bonnot and his gang of anarchists.

Based on a hugely successful French TV series in the 1970’s, the script is well-written (Claude Desailly, who also wrote for the TV series) and blends huge parts of history and historical figures into the film, such as Minister Jean Jaures and his journal L’Humanite; The Triple Entente; the Russian Revolution & Russian Loans to France; and the ‘premices’ or reasons/situation of WWI. And the direction, by Jerome Cornuau, covers the emergence of a new type of criminality, the innovative ways to fight this new type of crime, and the rivalry between the Brigades, the Parisian Police and other Prefectures throughout France.

While the ending felt abrupt, as though they’d run out of time, this is a fun, informative, and well cast film well worth watching (also, there’s meant to be a sequel in the pipeline, so one must catch up!)

July 15, 2011, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Published film reviews | Tags: , ,

Wannabe writer Eddie (Bradley Cooper) is out of money, heart broken, and has writer’s block until he discovers a top-secret drug with brain-enhancing qualities, which gives him a four-digit IQ. Robert De Niro plays a billionaire on the trail of Eddie’s secret and Abbie Cornish plays our hero’s skeptical girlfriend. Soon, Eddie finds himself haunted by blackouts and hunted by bad guys.

This is silly material, sure, and very high concept, but the actors – particularly Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro (both in form in their respective roles) have a lot of fun in this film, which does not take itself seriously. This is a smart, stylish and hugely entertaining movie that makes you wonder “what if?”.