Tag Archives: Christian Bale

Film Review: American Hustle

american-hustle

Con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) after being caught out running a loan scam. However, what starts out as a straightforward sting operation soon becomes embroiled in the world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.

In the opening scene of American Hustle, we see an overweight Christian Bale meticulously attaching a hairpiece to mask his baldness. So much attention is paid to each strand of hair; it’s a work of art. By the end of it, he actually looks pretty good, and that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.

See, practically everyone in American Hustle is hiding behind a façade, whether it’s part of a con to bring down corrupt politicians, or simply in the privacy of their own home. Everyone is putting on a front, be it for self-preservation or to attract or please the ones they love. It’s an interesting theme and one that really lets you get inside the characters, their motivations and their aspirations.

This depth to the characters is essential as American Hustle’s story isn’t really its strong point. The ‘hustle’ part of the story is loosely based on a true story, the Abscam operation of the 1970s and 80s, but never really has the required depth and thus feels rather shallow. I found it difficult to really care about the actual con and the payoff at the end was somewhat underwhelming. The pacing is also a little erratic with certain sections that lull and feel too drawn out.

first-tv-spot-for-american-hustle-question

However, as with all David O Russell films, the story is largely of little consequence; it’s the characters who form the basis of the drama, and this is where American Hustle really excels. O Russell has assembled quite the cast and pretty much everyone delivers a stellar performance. Christian Bale as the overweight, balding lead is magnificent as we see him transform from confident grifter in the outset to someone who’s way out of his depth once the operation gets into full swing.

Amy Adams, who plays a quasi femme fatale character, is also brilliant as she constantly keeps you (and the other characters) guessing where her allegiances really lie. Bradley Cooper plays, well, Bradley Cooper whilst Jennifer Lawrence is superbly trashy yet vulnerable as Irving’s wife. Robert De Niro also crops up in an uncredited role and absolutely steals those scenes, which almost makes you wish he had a more prominent role.

Many have claimed that American Hustle plays a little like a Scorsese-lite film, borrowing heavily from films such as Goodfellas but without the same substance and depth, and there is some truth in this. There are definite nods to Scorsese’s films but American Hustle does manage to find its own identity, sticking its tongue firmly in its cheek as it does so.

As with O Russell’s previous film, Silver Lining’s Playbook, American Hustle’s story might only get you so far but the ensemble’s performances ensure you become invested in characters you care about even if they’re tremendously flawed and not altogether likeable, and that’s not an easy feat.

Pros

  • Stellar performances, particularly from Bale and Adams
  • Great period setting, clothes, hairstyles, etc
  • Jennifer Lawrence singing Live and Let Die

Cons

  • Somewhat weak story and climax
  • Dodgy pacing at times

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

With great power comes great responsibility.

Yes, yes, that’s a whole different suit o’ spandex, but it could so easily apply to the pressures surrounding Christopher Nolan approaching The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan rebooted a Batman franchise that was in dire need of an overhaul and did so to an effect that no-one could have expected. Batman Begins brought us Batman’s origin story and perfectly mixed action and sentiment, whilst The Dark Knight introduced Heath Ledger’s Joker, creating one of the most memorable comic book film villains ever. Many have hailed TDK has the greatest superhero film of all time, so just how do you follow that?

It wasn’t too long before we were introduced to Bane, the beefcake who was to take over villainous duties from The Joker, duking it out with Bats amongst literally hundreds of extras, showing that Nolan clearly wanted to show people that he was thinking big. We also got told that a certain Miss Selina Kyle would make an appearance and then the trailers arrived featuring some huge explosive set pieces. It seemed as if Nolan was right on track to concluding the series in spectacular fashion.

We pick the story up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight with Gotham in a time of peace following the work done by the late Harvey Dent and Batman seemingly gone forever. Bruce Wayne is doing a Howard Hughes and has become a recluse in Wayne Manor. However, following the emergence of the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who is plotting something terrible for Gotham, Wayne decides to suit up once more to put a stop to his evil plotting.

BaneAll the major players are back for more; Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), etc, but we also get the introduction of a few new faces. Of course there is Anna Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (not Catwoman, technically), but we also get Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, a young cop in the mould of Jim Gordon, and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, a businesswoman desperate to get a nuclear energy programme up and running with Mr Wayne. These new characters add plenty more depth to the story, having various different influences on the final outcome. Of all the new additions, it’s Selina Kyle that is the most significant. Many believe Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman to be pretty definitive but Hathaway is superb as the feline femme fatale, managing to successfully capture the good gal/bad gal dynamic that is so essential to the character.

Then we come to Bane. The previous villains in the trilogy were all very much human characters in the comics, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for Nolan to drag them into his real world imagining. However, Bane is a little different. Although still human, he is traditionally of superhuman size with stupendously large muscles. Enter Tom Hardy. Hardy’s physique has become rather renowned after turns in Bronson and Warrior, so it’s no surprise to see him chosen to join the Inception reunion. Much had been made about Bane’s voice in TDKR but the problem was negligible; the evident post-production dubbing has ironed out much of the issue, with only a couple of instances that may leave you trying to work out what was said.

Bane is a fine addition to this Batman’s Rogues Gallery, along with Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow and Joker, and most certainly makes up for the abominable portrayal of the character in Batman & Robin. However, much of his actions build up to something that doesn’t really take a near 3 hour film to tell, and there is a feeling with the main plot of a little style over substance. It looks fantastic throughout and the set pieces are certainly impressive, but they feel a little shallow at times and we rarely feel the true peril that Gotham is supposedly in; Bane’s motives remain unclear for much of the film, which does leave a certain sense story being sacrificed for plot. The film, and particularly its climax, also descends into cliché at times which detracts a little from a franchise that has laid a foundation of doing things differently.

The action is nicely punctuated with more touching moments to give a change of pace and give the film a more of a Batman Begins feel; Bruce and Alfred’s emotional showdown is a highlight of the trilogy, and even Bane isn’t completely immune to a tug on the heartstrings. Alfred is the trilogy’s emotional core and once again he provides the perfect grounding for Bruce’s daredevil lifestyle. Over the three films, his story is arguably the most poignant of all. There are some plot threads however that feel underdeveloped that do nothing but add unnecessary confusion to an already packed plot.

It was always going to be difficult for Nolan to top TDK but he has done tremendously well to create a film that offers action in swathes but also a level of sensitivity that was missing from the previous film. TDKR is more character focused, harking back to Begins, which offsets the action set pieces perfectly. It might lack the originality of Begins and the depth of TDK, but TDKR is a fitting sign-off to a trilogy that has reinvented comic book adaptations and has shown that Christopher Nolan can handle both the power and responsibility bestowed upon him.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Batman Begins and The Dark Knight revisited

With The Dark Knight Rises concluding Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I thought I’d go back and revisit the two films that preceded it, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Warning: contains spoilers for the four people who haven’t seen either of these yet.

Batman BeginsBatman Begins

Before Batman begins, Batman’s origin story hadn’t really been explored to great extent and the franchise in general was in dire need of an overhaul. As such, Batman Begins was the perfect Batman film for its generation. Taking a much darker and more realistic tone than previous films, it brought Bruce Wayne and Batman into our world rather than, as in the past, taking us into his.

There’s something special about an origin story. Maybe it’s because we get to see the normal person (us) transformed into something greater (what we aspire to be), but whatever it is, Batman Begins is the perfect example of how to go back to a story’s roots. Pretty much everything important gets covered; we see where Bruce’s fear of bats comes from, we see the death of his parents, and then his transformation into Batman. However, it’s this final point that is the film’s most intriguing storyline.

Bruce goes off around the world in hope of learning the skills to bring justice to Gotham and is taught a variety of martial arts and ninja skills by Ducard (who later turns out to be the mysterious and supposedly immortal Ra’s Al Ghul), a member of the League of Shadows. This is where it gets really interesting as we actually see Batman learning his skills. Before we have just had a Batman who is resilient, skilled in hand-to-hand combat and can seemingly disappear at will. Now we see how he apparently learnt all of that badassery.

Origin stories can be tricky to do in that the filmmaker needs to include how the superhero came to be but also a further storyline involving an antagonist (or in this case two). This can lead the film to be a little on the long side (looking at you The Amazing Spider-Man), but Batman Begins manages to balance the two distinct parts of the story perfectly without stringing things out unnecessarily.

The villains chosen for Batman Begins are also excellent picks. Batman has a substantial rogues gallery and the duo of Ra’s Al Ghul and Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane work superbly together; Ra’s symbolises the father that Bruce lost as a child whilst Scarecrow represents the theme of fear that runs throughout the film. Both villains are suitably different enough to provide variety in their characters and both Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy play their respective roles very well indeed.

And then at the end of the film we get the tease of a certain someone’s calling card that, along with the anarchy ensuing throughout Gotham, sets up the following film perfectly.

The Dark Knight

The Dark KnightThe first Batman film to actually drop the ‘Batman’ from its title, The Dark Knight always promised to be something a little different. We knew from the end of Batman Begins that The Joker was going to be Batman’s key adversary but no-one really envisaged just how much of an effect the character would have on the film and the entire Batman franchise as a result.

Heath Ledger had been a controversial choice to play the Joker with many unable to see him in the role of Batman’s oldest and most famous enemy. However, Christopher Nolan clearly saw something in Ledger that most did not and it wasn’t long before it became clear that Nolan knew best. Whilst Jack Nicholson’s Joker was considered a near perfect take on the character, it’ll be Ledger’s portrayal that will forever be the benchmark.

Ledger’s death as a result of an overdose of prescription drugs prior to the film’s release was a tragedy and ensured an even greater air of mystery surrounding the part. There were reports that he had locked himself in a hotel room for weeks on end to prepare for the role and that the whole experience had had a detrimental effect on his mental state. Whatever really happened, Ledger gave a performance so absorbing that it will go down in history as one of the greats. Some have said he was overrated in the role, but he wasn’t. He simply wasn’t. Everything from his licking his lips facial tick (originally an irritation at the face paint, but Nolan liked it so have him carry on) to the variations in his vocal tone comes together to create a truly unsettling performance, but one that perfectly exemplified the Joker.

Elsewhere, The Dark Knight continues to carry on the excellent foundations laid by Begins. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman reprise their superlative supporting roles as Alfred and Jim Gordon respectively, and we get the introduction of district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The only blot in the copybook in terms of continuity was Katie Holmes not reprising her role as Rachel Dawes, although Maggie Gyllenhaal did a fine job as her replacement.

Dent is a fine and necessary addition to the roster, although the Two-Face side of the character feels somewhat underused. It’s not until we near the end of the film does Dent transform into Two-Face but seemingly within the blink of an eye he falls to his death and the character doesn’t really get a chance to fulfill its potential. However, to incorporate that would require a longer story and with the film already feeling a little on the lengthy side, there wasn’t really much space to cram in any more.

Many have argued that The Dark Knight is the finest superhero film of all time and it’s hard to argue with that, although some have since passed that accolade onto Avengers Assemble. The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to, but just as long as it doesn’t try to emulate its predecessor but rather try and build upon it, it should do just fine. Nolan has created two masterful comic book adaptations; who would bet against him doing it again?

Words: Chris Thomson

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Film review: The Prestige

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”

The Prestige

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are two aspiring illusionists working together in Victorian London, but when Angier’s wife is killed during an act, the two are torn apart. Hell-bent on outdoing each other, the pair, both aided and hampered by the beautiful Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson), go to extraordinary lengths to prove they are the greater magician.

The Prestige formed part of a magical double bill in 2006 alongside The Illusionist, but largely thanks to its trio of Jackman, Bale and Johansson it pretty much eclipsed its illusionary brethren. It also had the advantage of having Christopher Nolan at the helm fresh from Batman Begins to lend a bit of narrative nouse that the director has become renowned for. Adapted from Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name, The Prestige is an atmospheric period piece that effectively combines magic’s inherent mystery and intrigue with a plot that constantly keeps you second guessing right to the very end.

Christian BaleThe narrative jumps around between different time periods of the magicians’ rivalry, although Nolan does well to ensure it never becomes too confusing. The carefully crafted mise-en-scene not only creates an intriguing world for the characters, but also elicits a certain dreamlike quality that is equal parts beautiful and sinister. Neither Algiers nor Borden are particularly likeable characters; both have somewhat dishonourable intentions and it’s hard to know who to naturally side with. This, combined with the cinematography and flitting narrative all adds to the feeling that nothing is quite as it seems and that you shouldn’t be so quick to take everything at face value.

The Prestige is a film that definitely warrants a second viewing, presuming you enjoyed it first time round of course. There are some superb instances of foreshadowing, with some being much more subtle than others. Again, this just adds to the film’s mystery and intrigue. And as with ‘real’ magic, these are the things the film does best. The plot itself has a few holes in it here and there, although nothing that will break the film, and the characters can be a little one-dimensional at times. Bale’s Borden is by far the pick of the bunch, whilst Jackman and Johansson don’t exactly give memorable performances. In fact, Jackman’s best moments are when he actually plays Gerald Root, an out of work actor used as Algier’s double in his act.

Although magic is undoubtedly the basis for the film, it also becomes somewhat of a MacGuffin. The real theme of the story is two men with an all-consuming obsession and a friendship not just turned sour, but deadly. The Prestige is an interesting example of art imitating art and one that challenges the audience to question everything they are seeing. With magic it’s the reveal that gets the big reactions, and The Prestige just about delivers on this front. It’s not going to have you open-mouthed in amazement but it will likely leave you with a sense of satisfaction, if indeed you had at all been fooled. But then again, as the quote at the top of this review states, you don’t really want to work it out anyway.

Words: Chris Thomson

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The Fighter vs Warrior

Let’s get ready to ruuuumbleeeeee!

Warrior and The Fighter are both out now on DVD and are undoubtedly excellent films, but which one is the knockout movie or will they both be saved by the bell?

Let’s weigh up the opponents …

In the Red Corner we have:

The Fighter

Release date: Dec 2010

Lead: Mark Wahlberg  (Micky Ward)

Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (Dickie Ward)

Awards: 6 Oscar nominations (2 wins)

In the Blue Corner we have:

Warrior

Release Date: Sept 2011

Lead: Tom Hardy (Tommy Conlon)

Supporting Actor: Joel Edgerton (Brendan Conlon)

Awards: 1 Oscar nomination

Round 1 – Introduction:

At the start of both films you instantly know that you’ll leave the cinema with a smile on your face. However, they both begin very differently. The Fighter simply opens with Dickie (Bale) training his brother Micky (Walhberg) for a forthcoming boxing match. However, in my opinion, the start is a little slower than I would have liked but its direction is simply stunning, and starts on a lighter note than its opponent.

Warrior throws you straight into the drama. In the first scene, we watch the relationship of a Father (the incredible Nick Nolte) happy to find his estranged son (Hardy) literally sitting on his doorstep. However, Tommy isn’t willing to forgive and forget his Father’s past, and it appears the only reason he’s came to visit him is to tell him how much he despises his old man. So, as Warrior definitely packs a punch from the beginning then it definitely wins the first round.

Round Two – The Emotional Journey:

Both characters have an emotional struggle that ultimately makes compelling viewing. In The Fighter, Micky is struggling to break free from his Mother and Brother’s continuous interference with his boxing matches until he meets Charlene (Amy Adams) who convinces him that he needs to fight for himself and not for his family.

In Warrior, Hardy is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his Mother has died and that his brother (Edgerton) refused to run away with them from his alcoholic Father. He then enters the biggest MMA match in the world to win the cash prize for the wife and child of his friend who was killed in combat.

So, the want and need is there for both characters, but the Warrior definitely offers the blow that will leave a mark the very next day.

Round Three – Family Dynamics:

Do you think your family is complicated? Well, you haven’t seen The Fighter or Warrior then. Try being Micky Ward for a day and having to deal with a brother who can’t get over the fact that he once sucker punched Sugar Ray Leonard. Also, Micky has to deal with his Dickie’s drug taking and overbearing, know-it-all attitude. As well as dealing with a controlling, money-grabbing Mother who tells him has to fight a boxer who is a division bigger than he is. I bet your family look like The Waltons now.

You can’t help but feel for Tommy Conlon in Warrior, though. He was basically left to raise himself after his Mother got cancer and then died. He also can’t forgive his Brother and Father for basically ruining his entire family. He also drives his Father back to drink when he will only view him as his trainer. Things also go from bad to worse when his brother enters the MMA competition and they’re left to battle out their differences in front of the whole world.

The fact that the brothers in Warrior only have about two scenes together in the whole film makes the atmosphere between them tenser, but it also forces you to root for one person more than the other. Therefore, if you’re looking for a film with some genuine brotherly love then you should pick up The Fighter as you see them go on a fantastic journey together.

Round Four – Action:

If you’re the type of person that loves the big fight scenes then Warrior is the film to watch. It’s non-stop action the whole way through. There’s always someone getting punched or those little training sequences which make films like these so appealing.

However, that’s not to say that The Fighter doesn’t have action, but you only really see it at the end. The biggest punches come in the form of the overall story.

Round Five – Acting:

Tom Hardy is undoubtedly one of the best actors in films right now. I don’t care if you disagree with me, it’s a fact. He plays the role of Tommy Conlon beautifully. He’s definitely believable as a silent-but-deadly character, and his role as the bitter, ex-marine draws you in from beginning to end.

Therefore, Mark Wahlberg is an unsatisfactory opponent in comparison. I personally felt that Wahlberg was incredibly wooden throughout the film with his one expression and half-hearted lines – and I’m not surprised that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar like Bale and Leo.

However, maybe he was just overshadowed by supporting actor Christian Bale who played the role a drug addict magnificently. I doubt I’ve ever witnessed such a fantastic performance in another film, and he really did deserve the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as he stole every single scene that he was in.

The supporting actor in Warrior was also really good but was overshadowed by the lead. His story was compelling and he acted well, but his character wasn’t nearly as interesting as Hardy’s and is therefore instantly forgettable.

Round Six – The Parents:

The Father in Warrior, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), is definitely at the heart of the film and is ultimately what pushes away and brings together the brothers. His vulnerability is gripping and you cannot help but feel for him, even if he was a little bit of a bastard in the past. However, I would have loved to have seen a little bit more of him and know how his relationship with his Brendan panned out, but unfortunately this is a question that was left unanswered.

The Mother in The Fighter, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo), is so strong that I’m surprised she didn’t just knock Micky out the way and get in the ring herself. The fact that she refuses to believe that Dickie has a drug problem or that Micky will never be half the fighter his brother was only makes you love and hate her. You can’t help but loathe her when she’s strong but adore her when she’s weak, and I believe that makes her one of the most refreshing characters in film.

Round Seven – Believability:

The Fighter is based on a true story and therefore you become emotionally attached to the characters from the beginning. The life of Micky Ward is both fascinating and inspirational, and the film is without doubt a superb homage to the boxer’s rags to riches tale. Therefore, you believe in the story 110% and it really does give you that warm buzz I love so much once the end credits roll.

I honestly thought that Warrior was based on a true story at the end of the film, which I think shows that it’s an incredibly believable story and I almost wish it was real. Without giving too much away, the final shot in the film is visually stunning and extremely emotive. In fact, it would take someone without a heart to not feel moved. Maybe if Warrior was based on a real story then it would have received more critical acclaim.

Round Eight – Unanswered Questions:

The Fighter answered all my questions. It didn’t leave any big plot holes and everything was summed up pretty much perfectly.

Warrior, however, did leave a few frustrating questions, such as what happened to the dead marine’s wife and child? Why did Tommy visit his Father in the first place? Did Brendan form a relationship with his Father?

Round Nine – Overall Experience:

If you want to see a good drama that’s not too heavy then pick up The Fighter, but if you want a film with a  real punch then opt for Warrior.

And the Winner is …

WARRIOR!

So what if it leaves some unanswered questions. Who cares if it’s not based on a true story? This film is a good mix of emotion, action and brotherly love and will leave you reaching out for both the tissues and the punch bag.

Words: Lis King

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