Thursday, 16 January 2014

Best Supporting Actor 2013: Bradley Cooper in American Hustle

Bradley Cooper received his second Oscar nomination for portraying FBI Agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso in American Hustle.

Bradley Cooper has found himself once again nominated after his lead nomination for his previous collaboration with David O. Russell in Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper, rightfully, turned some heads with his earlier performance proving himself quite capable in a dramatic role, and more than just a face. Apparently Silver Linings Playbook may have brought him too much acclaim as his performance in this film is that of a man who believes himself to be an infallible actor, but in reality he is quite a fallible fellow. This is not helped by the way Russell directs American Hustle which is to try to give his actors as many Oscar scenes as possible even if they make little sense in context to the plot of the film or even really the character.

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. 

50 comments:

Calvin said...

Horrible, horrible nomination. And it's pretty sad that Jonah Hill and Cooper will soon be double nominees, and Bruhl, Gyllenhall will be shut out.

Meanwhile, somewhere out there Donald Sutherland awaits his first nomination.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Would you review him for Place Beyond the Pines? Please? PLAESE?!

luke higham said...

Louis: For each of your alternative line ups, can you also do a short summary similar to supporting actor 1935, when it comes to other worthy performances that won't make your line ups.

Matt Mustin said...

Robert De Niro was AWESOME in this. Glad you mentioned him.

And I agree, Cooper's awful here.

Mark said...

Apparently, at some point during filming of the movie, Bale asked Russell if the (excessive) ad-libbing was going to detract from the movie's plot. Russell replied, I quote, "Christian, I hate plots. I'm all about the characters, that's it." Correct me if I'm wrong, but in a movie like this, isn't the plot kind of important?

Matt Mustin said...

Mark: Yes, and that's EXACTLY the problem with the film.

Maciej said...

Lol at Russell for his remark about characters.

So, it looks like we're having another "I'M ACTING!!!" performance. After seeing "Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook" I'm not surprised. It's kinda weird though: on one hand, Russel can direct into a nice, subtle performance (see Cooper in "SLP"). On the other hand... well, see Melissa Leo in "Fighter". Well, I guess Russell will be doing this as long as the academy will encourage him with acting nominations for his movies.

Matt Mustin said...

Maciej: I thought Melisa Leo was great in The Fighter. It was loud, sure, but I don't think she overdid it.

luke higham said...

Matt Mustin: She stole Weaver's Oscar.

Maciej said...

Matt: So I guess we have to agree to disagree :) I my opinion her character was very overblown and an obvious Oscar-baiting. Not to mention her Oscar acceptance speech (which was by the way the most embarassing Oscar moment I've seen lol). I much more prefered Adams.

Matt Mustin said...

Maciej: I prefered Adams as well, actually.

luke higham said...

Melissa Leo: F-Bomb

Matt Mustin said...

Also, I'm glad you mentioned Jeremy Renner's underrated performance, Louis. He really was very good.

Maciej said...

luke: I loved Bale's remark in his speech about it :D

luke higham said...

Renner had the only nomination worthy performance, out of the entire cast. As I said before, he should've been given more to do.

RatedRStar said...

I kinda liked Christian Bale as he toned down the over the top nature a fair bit, but yes the more I think of Cooper, and American Hustle in general, im starting to turn, very um, Phoenixish, Clooneyish, if you get what I mean, Villainous =D.

Matt Mustin said...

I thought Bale was the best in the film.

RatedRStar said...

I personally think my favorite boxing film, is the Kirk Douglas film Champion, rather than The Fighter which is kinda standard stuff, except Bale and Adams who I thought brought energy to the proceeding.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: My Favourite Boxing film is Scorsese's masterful Raging Bull.

Matt Mustin said...

Luke: Same here. Raging Bull is brilliant.

Michael McCarthy said...

Louis, is there anyone you think could have made this role into a really great performance? I'm sure there are plenty, but does anyone specific come to mind for you?

RatedRStar said...

Claude....Claude Rains =).

RatedRStar said...

I personally think my favorite 1980 film was The Elephant Man because it was so touching and kind hearted. I like Raging Bull it just, I never once felt for the character, whereas I fell so sorry for The Elephant Man, and that kinda swayed me.

Matt Mustin said...

Michael: Honestly, I personally think Bradley Cooper COULD have done it. He just miscalculated it badly, and mixed with Russell's direction and the writing, it becomes a mess.

Mark said...

I agree with everyone. Raging Bull is not only the best boxing film, it's the best sports film period. And Robert De Niro's performance in it is my pick for greatest performance of all time.

luke higham said...

Matt Mustin: At the moment, I would give Bale a 3.5.

Maciej said...

I agree with Matt and luke - Bull is terrific. As for The Elephant Man, I would say it's a really schmaltzy tearjerker. I know it's an unpopular opinion, but that's how I feel. Plus, the surreal images that Lynch inserts fail to fit the tone of the movie.

Matt Mustin said...

I've never seen The Elephant Man, but I probably should because I LOVE John Hurt.

Michael McCarthy said...

I haven't either, but I'm a sucker for Raging Bull. Other than the amazing lead performance, there's something about it that just captivates me every time.

luke higham said...

Louis: If Robert De Niro had still been delivering great performances after 1990, would he've been in your top ten. Haven't seen Casino, so I've got nothing to say about that.

Matt Mustin said...

Michael: Well, Scorsese's masterful direction certainly doesn't hurt.

Michael McCarthy said...

Very true. I've never seen anything he's done that I didn't really like.

Matt Mustin said...

Me neither.

luke higham said...

Michael: What is your least favourite Scorsese film, even if it's at least good in your opinion.

RatedRStar said...

I think The Color Of Money is the worst, its pretty poor and Paul Newmans win is a disgrace compared to the others he would have been deserving for.

Michael McCarthy said...

If I had to pick I guess I'd go with The Color of Money. It doesn't stand up all that well to The Hustler but as a stand-alone film I think it's fine. It also doesn't feel as much like a Scorsese film since it's a sequel and Marty was probably trying too hard to maintain the style of the original instead of infusing his own into it.

luke higham said...

Louis: Can you see The last temptation of christ, so that Willem Dafoe is added to your overall ranking

Psifonian said...

I didn't like the performance, and Cooper is the worst of the nominees in this category. Which is pretty much the same in every other category as far as this turd of a film is concerned.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

You know what? Screw it. I'll be that dick and say I enjoyed Cooper a lot and thought he was funny. Fuck y'all, I'm non-conformist!

*bitter sobbing*

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, do you consider Daniel Bruhl and James Gandolfini lead or supporting?

Louis Morgan said...

koook160: Well if he needed to be nominated it definitely should have been for that.

The only problem is, as I've said before, I did prefer Gosling.

Luke: If I have the time I would not mind doing it.

Yes, I could see De Niro much closer to my top ten if his late career had not been such a black hole.

And yes I'll definitely try to get around to Last Temptation.

Michael McCarthy: As Matt said, I think Cooper could have done it himself, but he just didn't. Actually I'll say Sam Rockwell might have been the perfect fit.

Matt: Bruhl leading, Gandolfini supporting.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please thoroughly explain to me what was so bad about American Hustle?

Louis: What would you rate Adams and Lawrences performances?

Louis Morgan said...

Actually I should admit that I did not mind watching it, but I thought it was a mess. O. Russell wanted to follow Abscam, but subverts that randomly with scenes that are just there for the actors to act. Then at the end of the film he tries to pull everything together with the plot, and does a pretty poor job of it.

I'd give both a 2.5.

Matt Mustin said...

I just thought it was boring.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I liked it. In terms of just fun, entertaining flim-flam movies, I enjoyed. I also liked the acting A LOT more than you guys.

Matt Mustin said...

koook: Just to make you feel better, I should tell you that I would give Bale and Adams a 4.5 each.

Matt Mustin said...

I also would like this noted for the record: GODDAMN, does this soundtrack kick ass!

Psifonian said...

Anonymous,

The Scorsese trappings are all over the place here, but in trying to ape those stylistic flourishes, Russell has gone way overboard. His “greatest hits of the ’70s” soundtrack loses its luster by the third song, with almost every scene being backstopped by a loud and mostly inappropriate snippet of Chicago or the Bee-Gees. His constant zooms, which irritated me in Silver Linings Playbook, become a full-fledged annoyance here. But the biggest nuisance is just how Russell has written these characters, who could’ve been so interesting if the film hadn’t decided to take this surreal bent, and how he seems to have tried to give every one of his returning actors in the piece a chance at Oscar glory.

Bale, for his part, does a decent De Niro impression throughout the film. Unfortunately, his character is very static, not really doing much once the proceedings get going. Most of this is due to Bradley Cooper’s rabid attempts to upstage everyone and everything the second he shows up. He becomes such a dominating influence that it’s a wonder no one shot him. I get that his character is supposed to emphasize how ambition can subjugate common sense, but why his boss didn’t have him canned an hour into the film is a mystery to me. Cooper constantly cranks the knob to eleven and beyond, to the point where he passes the point of parody and falls into the realm of ludicrousness. Amy Adams scores what might be the biggest miss of her career with me, shooting for sensual and enigmatic but only coming off as awkward and unimportant. Lawrence, who is getting the most singular raves for the film, would be fine in a completely separate film . . . but she has lost all restraint here, playing a character so incredibly in-your-face-and-down-your-throat that it’s no wonder Bale’s character has a heart condition. (Her spontaneous cleaning montage near the end of the film ranks as the dumbest thing I’ve seen all year.) I love the gal but this isn’t so much a performance as it is a bellow for attention. Really, of the main five, it’s only Renner who comes out ahead for me, playing a character who isn’t quite as showy but is the only one I felt any sense of interest or sympathy for.

Russell is one of those guys who likes to give his actors the punchiest scenes imaginable and let them run wild, and he sure does here . . . but not, I think, to the film’s credit. Some sequences work well (there’s a scene where Robert De Niro, doing a favor for his Silver Linings director, galvanizes the film for about eight minutes, and all I could think after he left was that I wanted to see a film about that guy, not these doofuses), while others (mainly anything involving Cooper) just don’t work at all. And throughout it all, Russell is aiming for that ’90s-era Marty brand . . . but I don’t think Russell is nearly the level of director who can pull off that kind of con. Irving Rosenfeld is a forger, but his film is a slipshod forgery of a master’s work, and while it might distract you with its sprinting-for-the-end-zone pacing and its brash flash, it can’t hide the fact that it feels like a second-rate knockoff.

joe burns said...

I personally thought the film was great: An entertaining wild ride and I thought Cooper's work worked in that perfectly.

But I get your thoughts totally and perhaps I'll feel differently when I rewatch it. I am surprised though that you hated him this much. I'll predict he'll be fifth.

Mitchell Murray said...

Thoughts and ratings for Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams.

For me, I'd go 3 for J-Law and 3.5 for Adams (The latter is usually much stronger for me, but she did what she could)