Thursday, June 5, 2014

DVD of the Week: American Hustle

There seemed to be a moment, around the turn of the year, when a lot of film reviewers in the "better sort" of news site got really worried that American Hustle would win a lot of Oscars that it didn't deserve. At the time I'd not seen either this film, or any of it's competitors, but what was interesting was not that it suddenly came under fire - something pretty normal in Oscar races - but that the reason it was targetted seemed to be pure snobbery. So not having seen the film I was aware of a lot of opinions that it was shallow, and glitzy, and hollow and frivolous, and "merely" entertaining. Which is an interesting criticism, when you think about it. How dare a film be "merely entertaining"? So obviously, I wanted to see it, and now we have.

Heist films are pretty hard to pull off, in my opinion. The best of them - The Sting, Oceans Eleven - rely on tricking the audience as much as the intended marks, and they also need to have a joie de vivre about them, a breeziness, that lets you get past what is often silly premises and plot twists. American Hustle has on it's side that its based loosely on a true story, but as with any good caper it doesn't seem to keen on letting reality get in the way of a nice fiction. The plot in short is that a couple of con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) get pulled in by an FBI Agent (Bradley Cooper) and put on a job to catch a crooked(ish) politician (Jeremy Renner). Adding to the mix is the mob, Bale's wife Jennifer Lawrence, and a whole lot of messy emotions and motives.

The production design of American Hustle is amazing. Usually we talk about design (at least in the geek sphere) when we are thinking of alien landscapes and grand starships, but the look and tone of this historically set movie is really fantastic. The hair, the close, the sets, the whole works, give a slick, artificially stylised tone to the film that fits perfectly with its plot and characters. Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence both have uttery transfixing hair, and Amy Adams wears a succession of exceptionally revealing costumes that appeared to turn me into a gibbering vegetable. I am again reminded that Z is very tolerant of me at times.

So to get to the heart of it, is this a "proper" movie worthy of Oscars? Well apart from not really understanding the question, because the Oscars is a stupid process of comparing films that are impossible to compare, well no, I guess it's not a "proper" film. It is all surface, all sheen. It's fast moving, slick, and shallow, because so are all of the characters. It is however hugely entertaining, polished to within an inch of its life and doesn't have a bad performance in it. Some will just bounce off it, I think, as it's not terribly "chewy" as movies go, without the grand, explosions-and-monsters spectacle we've come to associate with movies that aren't trying to be about "stuff".

Maybe thats the problem? Maybe it just needed a Giant Robot to remind some critics that just because it's set in the real world doesn't mean it's not a fantasy?