Bradley Cooper received his second Oscar nomination for portraying FBI Agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso in American Hustle.
The role of FBI agent Richie DiMaso, at least on paper, seems to be quite a meaty role. He is the man catches who catches the con artists Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), he comes up with the scheme to use them to catch corrupt politicians, he gets his ambitious arc, and he even is allowed to be the villain of sorts of the film as the power of his position goes to his head. Well Cooper here simultaneously falls short and goes over board with his character. It is an odd combination and it seems perhaps the praise of Cooper's last perhaps went to his head, as Cooper's performance here seems like that of a man who believes he can do no wrong.
It is rather odd how Cooper's work plays as much of the time he just seems rather boring. There is a distinct lack of ambition in this overly ambitious man at times. Cooper delivers his lines, but there is not the drive there to really suggest a man trying to make a name for himself. He is often upstaged by his co-stars including Amy Adams(who I'm not crazy about either), Christian Bale, and especially Louis C.K. in their scenes together, there is strange lack of passion at times as he does things in the basest of ways. This is also the case for another kind of passion, the first time Adams's character makes a suggestive remark to him, Cooper's reaction is terrible in that there is no power in his lust yet he still comes off like a teenager rather than a grown man.
Cooper oddly downplays too much yet overplays his part too, a combination you don't want. There is no method to this attempted madness as he will be thoroughly uninteresting in a scene then at the end of it will make a bizarrely over the top face to end the scene. The first I think of is his first scene with Louis C.K. as his superior at the FBI and Cooper goes through the scene in a very to the point fashion without any spice or surprise to be found in either his voice or facial expressions. Then at the very end of the scene Cooper decides that the natural end of the screen should be contort his face to a most unnatural expression. There is purpose to this expression but it certainly is distracting especially since Cooper does this in a few other scenes as well.
Cooper's performance lacks the rhyme or reason for the randomness of whether he will play a scene straight and dull or as if he is some mad dog. I have to say there seemed to be something missing from this character, something that would cause him to be so erratic, like a cocaine addiction for example. I'm very serious about this point as it almost seems like they thought of doing it but wrote it out as it was already pretty hard to believe that Richie wouldn't be fired for his antics. There one scene in particular where Richie is marching to confront Sydney and I could swear Cooper was playing it as if he was DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, since no cocaine is involved though Cooper's acting is excessive just for the sake of it (on re-watch I noticed a brief cutaway where he snorts something, but if it is suppose to be an influence on his behavior one would think they'd establish it better). It's only made worse because as usual he drops that choice suddenly without explanation.
I'm just going to say it, everything is off about Cooper's performance here. In his portrayal of Richie's lust it seems no existent in one scene then it is all that consumes him as he wildly moves around to suggest his uncontrollable frustrations. In his portrayal of Richie's rise of power there is no charisma to Richie as he builds himself up so when he gets broken down the satisfaction is a bit lost. Richie as a villain is an utter failure too because Cooper only suddenly tries some menace for one scene and in that one scene he tries to hard frankly. It should be from the ambition that menace is derived, but Cooper's method is the unremarkable version where Richie just feels like being a real jerk for just that scene. Don't worry though he'll be exceptionally calm because Richie's quad-polar or something.
You know it really I would not mind the randomness if Cooper was at least entertaining with his decisions, but his ACTING here flounders badly. It is painfully self aware in style and he fails to even be funny despite obviously wanting to be in several scenes. If Cooper had been funny this still would not be a great performance, as it would still be a disjointed mess, but I would have liked if there had been at least scenes of something worthwhile. A mess it is but not in the way that I assume was intended. I could easily see a performance that could have brought some of these elements together to make Richie into a brilliant mess that should have had the through line of his growing ambition, but Cooper forgets to bring the right stabilizing factor to his characterization.
It is a shame that Bradley Cooper was nominated for this film as it would be an even bigger shame if he ever gives a performance like this again, and fails to remember what he did right with his previous Oscar nominated performance. This is very far from one of the best supporting performances of the year, firstly because he is not good, secondly because you could easily make an argument that he is co-lead with Bale, and thirdly because he is not even the best supporting performance in the film. Louis C.K. and Robert De Niro are better in their limited time, and if the Academy wanted recognize someone it should have been Jeremy Renner for his heartfelt turn as a politician who believes that the ends justify the means. Renner's performance feels like a real man throughout the film. Renner took his brief time to find the substance of his character and give a moving portrait of a flawed politician, Cooper's took his ample time to give a pointlessly flashy and shallow performance that seems to try for a few too many yuks.