American Hustle (2014)

Genre: Crime, Drama

Director: David O. Russell

Writers: Eric Singer, David O. Russell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence

Rating: ★★★★

American Hustle has made a huge impact on the film world and community earning itself respectful plaudits and nominations by the dozen. It certainly has one of the best and most-talented acting ensembles in which each give a refreshing and different performance. The story however is where I struggled mostly, but since reflecting the words brave and seemingly clever seem most fitting. American Hustle is enjoyable but nowhere near having special and faultless-like qualities as speculated and first hoped.

The film establishes itself in a world of con artists and corrupt business men following one in particular, the brilliant Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) who lives scamming the equally greedy, selling fake art along with owning a string of businesses he survives. Rosenfeld meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) a sly and lonely British woman who seduces her way into Irving’s world of cons and scandals. Later down the line they cross paths with a FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) wild and deranged he leads them into danger and a world plagued with powerbrokers and mobsters as they attempt to pull off a big-time con.

Irving Rosenfeld’s struggling relationships with fling Sydney and scatty wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) starts to cause problems with the con and things get far too dangerous than ever imagined. Political operator Carmine Polito then enters the frame and finds himself in-between the two corrupt worlds of cons and cops. As things develop in everyone’s lives the con looks to be exposed with its success lying in the shaky hands of Irving’s unstable Rosalyn.

American Hustle has a great introduction, but only for those that were hooked and intrigued by the concepts and world laid out in front of them. A great in-depth opening act really lets us know the characters, the plot and the plan but it doesn’t grab you as much as it should and could. You find yourself slightly bored awaiting action and consequently for some, you don’t take in the information and this is dangerous as American Hustle adopts a very interlinking plotline that you can easily lose yourself in. Once developed it gets much better, the action is brought forward and it sets up some tense scenes as the con leads our ensemble to mobsters and criminals. As I said the story didn’t grab me, not at the beginning and not enough during the middle, however it was the ending that shines. The con comes together appearing much clearer, a big plot twist is introduced and everything is wrapped up nicely making lots of sense and giving great closure. It is then when you appreciate the story, the con and the writing from duo Eric Singer and David O. Russell.

Where most praise however has been and should be directed at, is the casting ensemble that makes up American Hustle. Christian Bale shows once again how versatile and amazing he is, whilst the duo that made up award winning Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence display yet another award winning performance. Amy Adams also makes a great statement for her talent and future career. I can easily see one of these brilliantly captured performances being rewarded and marked with an Oscar nomination or even the win come February’s ceremony.

David O. Russell should also be given credit for producing such a fine display and quality picture whilst plaudits should be directed in the pathway of the music department for the score too. However an obvious and much talked about success is those of the make-up department which transform the group completely surely leading them to Oscar and award glory.

I’ve seen a lot of five stars and special labels surrounding American Hustle but for me it doesn’t pitch that high. It tries to be too “sexy” and “clever” at times and this plays against my liking whilst it lacks a little action too. Nevertheless I believe it was entertaining and rather enjoyable, with great scenes and some funny scripted moments. American Hustle was boosted and saved by its all-star cast so credit to David O. Russell for picking some familiar faces as it paid off once again. Easily watchable, clever and funny American Hustle should be seen, especially to witness a great acting display.

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12 Years a Slave (2014)

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Steve McQueen

Writers: John Ridley, Solomon Northup (book)

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender

Rating: ★★★★★

One of the most anticipated and recently talked about films 12 Years a Slave has been grabbing the headlines for various nominations and wins that has earned credentials labelling it as one of the best films ever made. With all the buzz and speculation surrounding Steve McQueen’s newest phenomenon the expectations were set very high before viewing, but I can firmly say they were matched and exceeded. 12 Years a Slave captures such intense horror, pain and emotion in truly amazing style resulting in a flawless film from script, cast, crew and score. I can easily say that it will be a film to scoop not only many nominations but many Oscars in February’s prestigious ceremony.

12 Years a Slave is a beautifully crafted portrayal of the harsh and brutal experience of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a freeman who was captured, tortured and then sold into slavery. We follow Solomon’s story starting in Upstate New York, Saratoga, where he’s a respected member of the community, having a family consisting of a wife and two kids in which he provides for by working as a violinist. However his happy and joyous life is soon taken away as he finds himself chained and imprisoned in a basement deep in Washington where he is then beaten and sold into slavery.

Solomon’s day-to-day routine soon consists of brutal beatings and unhuman labour as he is passed around from slave owner to slave owner until he eventually settles down on the plantation of cruel Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). He soon finds himself a target due to his dignified actions and gets caught up in an act of jealously between plantation owner Epps and a young slave girl. After many attempts and ideas of escape failing, Solomon finds hope when meeting a Canadian abolitionist named Bass (Brad Pitt) in his twelve year.

12 Years a Slave portrays such a tragic and horrific story with such art and realism you can’t find a single fault. Each painful and brutal beating and whipping is shown with such horror and precision it’s truly powerful. Steve McQueen captured such emotion with his film forcing you to get so wrapped up and involved in the story, you feel the need to help Solomon out constantly creating a great amount of sympathy.

The performances captured and displayed by all the cast are brilliant and I personally feel it’s one of the best displays I’ve seen in recent years with so many standouts. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the obvious highlight as he plays the traumatised Solomon Northup throughout but his performance is far from glamorous and showy but real and painful. With such a display there will be no surprise that he’ll be up to his neck in best actor nominations. Michael Fassbender too should be applauded for a great performance and one that is surely the highlight of his career. The brilliant ensemble was then further added too by low key but perfectly executed displays from both Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch.

It is obvious that it was the acting and performances that made 12 Years a Slave shine but Steve McQueen’s also added his respectable brilliance that again should be rewarded with a fistful of best picture nominations. Many awe-inspiring bright scenery and life-like shots featured throughout breaking up and juxtaposing the brutality of the other scenes with its admirable beauty. 12 Years a Slave although only a month into the New Year is firmly staking its place as the highlight release from 2014.

Not only does 12 Years a Slave achieve such powerful and impacting results due to the technical and acting quality but the real-life biographic element truly finishes this film of. Adapted from the book from Solomon Northup – Twelve Years a Slave writer John Ridley has worked wonders. When the words “these events actually happened” lay place upon the screen it is then the pain truly seems to hit in along with the heart-ache.

There are no questions about it that 12 Years a Slave will be the one to beat come the Oscars and there’s no competition when it comes to comparing Steve McQueen’s biographic drama to other films reflecting the horrific slave-era. 12 Years a Slave is a must-see release that will be referred to for a long time to come, emotional, powerful and truly impacting 12 Years a Slave is faultless.