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