Friday, 24 January 2014

Best Actor 2013: Christian Bale in American Hustle

Christian Bale received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle.

American Hustle is a mess of the film that is suppose to be about Abscam, where the FBI trapped corrupt politicians using a con artist and a fake Arab sheik. It is strange for a film to sacrifice plot for character, rather than the other way around as usually is the case, and it does not work for two reasons. One O. Russell still wants the plot to be important in the way he made the film, and secondly the character scenes tend to be character antics rather than making any sort of character arc.

Christian Bale in 2013 apparently decided to model his performances after one man, Robert De Niro. Bale's superior performance in Out of the Furnace, which is what they should have nominated Bale for if they had to nominate him, reminded me of De Niro in The Deer Hunter. In that film Bale, like De Niro in that earlier film, really plays it close to the chest giving one of his best and most naturalistic performances in years. He has that effortless quality in his performance necessary and you can feel the setting of the film in his work. Bale reminded once again of De Niro in American Hustle, but this time in a far less natural fashion. In American Hustle Bale actually seems to be doing a Robert De Niro impression in the film, as if it was De Niro playing the part as a contemporary film in the 70's.

The De Niro accent and the mannerisms are not the most effortless he's ever done, but they are easy enough to get use to during the film, and these mannerisms and his physical transformation indeed do an okay job of making Bale into the overweight conman who spends an extra amount of time to get his comb over just right. Bale is charismatic enough here for him to believable in his role as the con man who is always working these to try to get his way, although this is hardly the greatest portrayal of a con man, let's just say he's no Paul Newman in the Sting for example. Bale though does a decent enough job himself with the right amount of smoothness in his portrayal, and he makes himself fit the part well enough through all the effort he clearly put in to do so.

I have to admit Christian Bale gives my favorite performance out of the Oscar nominated actors in the film, I preferred Renner and De Niro overall. The funny thing is Bale despite being lead actually is the one who does not have any pointless scenes like Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have. None of his scenes seemed like he went to go improvising for the sake of flamboyance, instead Bale has the ridiculously thankless role of trying to carry the plot even when the director does not care about it. Bale tries, oh does he try, and you can see it in his performance with every scene. He is the most consistent because in Bale's performance you can see him trying his best to keep the plot going even with all the distractions around him.

It is rather odd that Rosenfeld, despite being a con man who probably should have showy scenes, does not really have any showy scenes to himself. It would make perfect sense if he did, you know maybe he has a scene where it shows him really rope someone into one of his games, or the Abscam, but oddly Bale's part is pretty light on the dialogue in some key scenes. For whatever reason the non con man F.B.I agent gets all those moments. The most con manning we really get from him is when he convinces Jeremy Renner's character Mayor Carmine Polito not to walk out on the scam by trying to befriend him. Bale is charming enough when he does this but it is less putting a wool over his eyes in a Henry Gondorff sorta way, and more of Rosenfeld going like "Hey I'm a nice guy, we should be friends".

There are technically scenes that seem set up for Bale like when he is talking with the mayor over dinner, but when Rosenfeld is suppose to lay down the con the film instead focuses on Jennifer Lawrence's antics instead. This frequently happens to Bale throughout the film, and because of that there is a serious problem created. One plot point that matters a lot by the end of the film is Rosenfeld feeling sorry for Renner's character yet the film fails to really establish their friendship enough, at least enough that a man who makes his career out of screwing people would want to change his ways. The film doesn't care about this relationship though until the end of the film, either covering it up with a musical montage, or editing away from it to see what sorta wacky stuff Lawrence and Cooper's characters are up to.

In the various supposedly complicated scenes of the various characters doing things Bale does stay on task in his attempt to make the plot important to this film. Bale shows in Rosenfeld some actual concern through his expressions. Whether it be some regret for screwing a man he's come to respect or fear when it seems they taking on opponents far smarter than they are, Bale does his very best to articulate these emotions in a believable way. Sure the film could not care less about Rosenfeld's dealings with the plot most of the time, but Bale, whenever he is on screen, does what he can to bring some weight to proceedings. Bale does not really have enough material to defeat the way that David O. Russell decided to direct the film, but I do like that he made an attempt, even if it was a mostly futile endeavor.

When it is all said and done I did like Bale's performance. He was the only performance out of the Oscar nominated performances, that made me care about the character in anyway. He was the only one I could empathize with in anyway, particularly in his portrayal of the exasperation toward Jennifer Lawrence's acting... I mean her character's actions. Bale does have the right type of energy here as he focuses to try to make the film move, rather than have an Oscary scene or two, but everything is against him as I said before. The film should have given Bale more to do with Irving Rosenfeld as I'm sure there could have been many interesting little details shown about the process of the con, but eh the film never cares for that anyway. This isn't a great performance, or Bale's strongest work from 2013, but hey he gave it his best shot, which I certainly appreciate.

61 comments:

Allen said...

I didn't think he was bad per se. He just tries so hard to make his acting look effortless that it ends up being completely obvious. So it all just read as blatant "effortless" acting to me, if that makes any sense.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I was worried you'd give him a lower score, so I'll take it. I'd give him more credit than you, obviously. He was my favorite performance in the movie.

luke higham said...

Louis: what were your thoughts on Out of the Furnace.

Michael McCarthy said...

Exactly the rating I was expecting, and possibly what I would give him too.

mcofra7 said...

Louis, what did you think of Casey Affleck in Out of the Furnace?

mrripley said...

i can telll u hated jennifer from this review,me too/

Matt Mustin said...

You know what, I liked him a lot when I first saw it, but I like him less the more I think about him. I'd probably give him a 4.

Matt Mustin said...

Also, Christian Bale is an actor I greatly admire because he's not afraid to take risks even if they don't always pay off. I think they usually do in his case.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: It had some strong acting, aside from gravely voiced for no reason Forest Whitaker, but it seems like there is a great film in there that never breaks out. It still has some very strong moments, but it never fulfills its potential. Scott Cooper does not seem to be much of a director, and apparently he messed up the original script.

mcofra7: He was very good.

Psifonian said...

He was the best of the nominated cast (Renner was still MVP), but yeah, one of these five nominees is not like the others . . . and Bale gypped Hanks out of a nod.

Matt Mustin said...

Psifonian: He sure did.

joe burns said...

I thought he was terrific, although I see your points. The script definitely needs work. I personally loved Lawrence though, I'm sure she is last in your ranking of Supporting Actress.

Do you think it'll win though?

Matt Mustin said...

Considering that Gravity and 12 Years A Slave tied at the PGAs it's actually IMPOSSIBLE to predict what will win Best Picture.

Michael McCarthy said...

Matt: you think so? I personally am pretty convinced that 12 Years a Slave has got that award.

Matt Mustin said...

Oh, I think it's got a very strong chance, but I do think it's close.

Louis Morgan said...

Joe: It could. I would put my money on 12 Years a Slave right now, but I could easily see Hustle, 12 Years a Slave or Gravity take it. If McQueen wins DGA, and 12 Years takes BAFTA things will be cleared up though.

Matt Mustin said...

I think Cuaron will win DGA.

Michael McCarthy said...

Cuaron needs to win every director award he can though. But I wouldn't mind best pic going to 12 Years a Slave at all.

Michael Patison said...

I assume DiCaprio will be your next review as you have still yet to see Nebraska?

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: I think he very well might as well, but I think everyone is being a little too certain that both the DGA and the Academy will recognize the directorial achievement of Gravity. After all Tom Hooper did beat David Fincher for both, and McQueen's direction is a whole lot better than Hooper's was.

Michael McCarthy: I would prefer the split actually, but I am always trepidations to predict it.

Michael Patison: Yes DiCaprio will be next.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: That's why I said I THINK he'll win. :P

Louis Morgan said...

I was not trying to be curt.

Matt Mustin said...

No, I know, I wasn't offended, I was just joking around.

dinasztie said...

I loved American Hustle. I found it stylish, smart and weird (in a good way). I thought Bale was fine, but I loved JenLaw the most - a beautiful, sexy, heartbreaking, hilarious and ultimately underrated, intentionally hot mess performance.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Louis: Is it bad that I read that as "I was trying not to be a c**t."?

Kevin said...

Louis: What rating would you give Bale's performance in Out of the Furnace?

Also, what ratings would you give Affleck and Woody Harrelson?

luke higham said...

Louis: what are your thoughts on James Cameron & Christopher Nolan as Directors.

Louis Morgan said...

Kevin: I'd probably give Bale a 4.5. I think I need to watch it again to refine my thoughts on Affleck and especially Harrelson although I liked both of them so they'd each get at least a 4.

Luke: I don't love a single film of his and really at best I only sorta like them, I still need to watch The Abyss and Aliens though. He is a much better director than a writer, but really I'm not that crazy about him as a director. He is someone who should either direct another writer's scripts or have someone come in to polish his scripts.

As for Nolan I have yet to dislike a film of his, and I rather love The Dark Knight, The Prestige and Memento. I would not say he is without fault though as he can over direct a bit at times, and his scripts can sometimes have a bit too much exposition.

luke higham said...

Louis: what ratings would you give to the cast in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Martin Freeman - 4
Richard Armitage - 4
Luke Evans - 4
Benedict Cumberbatch -3.5
Ian McKellen - 3.5
Ken Scott - 3
Aidan Turner - 3
Stephen Fry - 2
Lee Pace - 2
Orlando Bloom - 1

luke higham said...

Louis: are you planning on watching the extended edition.

luke higham said...

Louis: lastly, what were your thoughts on your top 5 rated performances in the film.

Michael Patison said...

I know you didn't ask me, Luke, but my Hobbit ratings for a couple of the characters would be:
Martin Freeman - 4
Richard Armitage - 4
Luke Evans - 4.5 (at worst a high 4) (he was easily my favorite part of the movie)
Benedict Cumberbatch - 4

luke higham said...

Michael Patison: I thought you gave Freeman, 4.5 in your who should've been nominated article.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: In regards to the extended, I don't know if I'll be watching it.

Martin Freeman -I really like his portrayal of Bilbo as he is very endearing lead, but he really did not get a character arc in this one like he did in the first film.

Richard Armitage - Armitage reminded me of Viggo Mortensen in a good way in this one, and I thought did very well in the portrayal of his character's passion and quiet command.

Luke Evans - Bard could have been a throwaway character, but Evans puts a lot of passion into his performance and I'm looking forward to see what he does with him in the final film.

Benedict Cumberbatch - Great voice work from Cumberbatch that is a perfect fit for a dragon.

Ian McKellen - Good like always, but he just did not have much to do as Gandalf in the film.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Wow, Bloom was THAT bad this time around?

luke higham said...

Koook160: must've been the distracting contact lenses:)

Louis: what rating would you give Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Michael Patison said...

Luke: I'm glad I have another person reading it :). I did, but have just changed it. My thoughts on him [Freeman] are pretty much the same as Louis's. I think I was blinded by how charming he is.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: Well those lenses certainly did not help, but I have no idea what he was going for in this one. I guess he was trying to be intense, but he failed miserably in that regard.

I'd probably give Cumberbatch a 3.5 maybe a 4 in that.

luke higham said...

Louis: on an unrelated note, have you ever seen Caligula, starring Malcolm McDowell.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: I've seen a detailed review of it, that was more than enough for me.

luke higham said...

Louis: I saw it a couple of months ago & thought it was the most pointless, worthless historical movie, that I've ever seen. It is also incredibly over-excessive with its sex scenes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Louis this is totally OT but can I suggest that you review Tony Leung in Lust, Caution when you do alternate best actor in 2007? It's a really terrific performance and Ang Lee's best film imo.It's quite slow, but great anyway.

Louis Morgan said...

I like Leung so I'll try to keep him in mind for that year.

luke higham said...

Louis: what were your thoughts on Evangeline Lilly in the Hobbit.

RatedRStar said...

and I thought I was the only the person who had an interest in Tony Leung whatsoever lol.

I should point though Louis, Tony Leung in the 2000s kinda went through this period when he played suspiciously similar characters, like the character from 2046 and In The Mood For Love are same, I think Lust Caution is the same as well, but, more violent and complex I would like to think, its not his most evil role though lol.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: I liked her even though her side plot did not need to be there.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Anyone see Short Term 12? Because I just saw it and Brie Larson just became my Best Actress win.

Michael Patison said...

I'm planning on watching it sometime this week. I finally saw Mud last night and McConaughey is now a double nominee for me. My God the man had charisma.

Louis Morgan said...

I got around to True Detective, my goodness, McConaughey is amazing in that.

luke higham said...

Louis: who are your favourite actors at the moment, that are currently working.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: What are your thoughts on Harrelson in True Detective?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Louis: I know, right? I think I may actually like him even more there than DBC, which is REALLY saying something.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: At the moment no one is having the streak Matthew McConaughey is having right now.

Matt: Harrelson's also very good.

luke higham said...

Louis: when's the review coming up.

Louis Morgan said...

I've been busy, but I'll try to get on today.

RatedRStar said...

Monks have lifes too lol what with their bald heads and everything, plus their in a lot of movies, maybe Louis had a part in a Jackie Chan flick.

Anonymous said...

@RatedRStar

Have you seen Tony Leung in Happy Together, cause I think him playing a moody gay chef would um, interest you, plus I think its one of his best.

Matt Mustin said...

I just watched Mud. Matthew McConaughey is brilliant in it. Louis, what did you think of Tye Sheridan?

Louis Morgan said...

Sheridan and McConaughey are both great in it.

Matt Mustin said...

Yeah, I agree. I'd be SHOCKED if this doesn't make Sheridan a star.