A New Year’s Film Reivew Twofer: American Hustle” and “Blue Jasmine”

American Hustle (2013)

Very interesting Director David O. Russell told the cast of “American Hustle” to fully explore their characters, sparing nothing. So, during the shooting Christian Bale told the Director “You realize that this is going to change the plot greatly down track.” To which the director replied, “Christian, I hate plots. I am all about characters, that’s it.”

So that’s exactly where it went. The plot loosely involves the “Abscam” sting of the late 70s. A quest for local corrupt government officials using a fake Arabian Sheikh to lend classiness to the operation and inadvertently ended snaring major criminals. Against this backdrop, the world-class actors, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Brad Cooper, Louis C.K, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner go to work exploring their characters magnificently.

These actors are as blue chip as it gets in our generation. They are given a free reign to do what they do best by a director who knows how to guide them while maintaining continuity. There is no CGI, no explosions, no aliens, no floating around in space, no metropolitan destruction. Just the best actors of our generation given a masterful chance to show their chops.

The real fireworks come from the women, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, both of who explode off the screen. Amy Adams explores the would-be fraudsters moll with brilliant precision. In a dramatic change for her, Jennifer Lawrence morphs into a meddling two-dimensional, part harpy, part temptress New Jersey housewife. Jeremy Renner shines as the politician that can’t believe wrongdoing exists if it’s all for the people of his jurisdiction.

Best part:  The plot twist at the end. Un-credited Robert DeNiro.

Not-so best part:  Film is too long and the characterizations tend to be too overwrought.

It’s an excellent film, I give it four of five bottles of toupee’ glue.

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Blue Jasmine (2013)

Woody Allen started out as a neurotic stand up comic, progressed to the star of some really funny comedies and ultimately to a world-class director of some fine films.

I can picture Mr. Allen sitting at a desk somewhere reading the saga of master financial scammer Bernard Madoff and wondering if it would be possible to accurately portray the aftermath of his actions on those close to him. It could not be done without the right actors, but this selection process is Mr. Allen’s stock in trade.  He made it happen and the result is simply spectacular.

Cate Blanchett is perfection languishing in endless luxury as the wife of convincing financial magnate Alec Baldwin. Waited on hand and foot, private jets, surprise diamond trinkets, mansions around the world. An idyllic, limitless existence. Then it all ends as Alec is arrested for massive fraud schemes and it sent to prison where he hangs himself. Cate is hauled through the courts for years where everything she has is appropriated to re-pay those defrauded by her husband.

Ultimately she’s turned out on the street with nothing but the clothes on her back. Her only recourse is to move in with her estranged working class sister, who she had previously treated as poor relation. She is then immersed in and must accommodate to a rambunctious, beer swilling, potentially violent minimum-wage culture she previously had no conception of.

Cate Blanchett turns in a suburb, world-class interpretation of the self-delusional socialite fallen on hard times. Sally Hawkins is perfection as her hardscrabble antipode sister. Alec Baldwin exhibits just the right formula of arrogance and smarmy aplomb. Peter Sarsgaard and Bobby Cannavale are excellent. The audience feels for and with the characters.

I think this is Mr. Allen’s masterpiece. He has chosen the right actors and directed them in the right way to show the aftermath of disaster in a passionate but empathetic production worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In Cate Blanchett, Mr. Allen has uncovered a female lead with previously undiscovered depth, texture and pathos.

Blue Jasmine is an elegant, witty and sophisticated film, highly recommended by me.

I give it four and a half of five black frame glasses.

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