Director David O. Russel takes a con job tale and transforms it into a fast and stylish ride. He doesn’t gussy it up with lots of guns, gangsters and explosions, but keeps the plot moving so quickly with so many characters working on multiple levels. When it logically makes sense to take a dramatic approach, it goes for it. When there is a perfect moment for some comedy, Russel takes advantage of it. All of this feels organic and looks pretty darn sexy with the late-70’s backdrop.
Based on a true story, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) figures himself to be a mastermind con artist. He swindles many with various operations and his female partner Sydney (Amy Adams). They keep getting better and eventually fool around, despite Irving’s bitter wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and innocent son at home. Their scam operations are soon foiled by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), but he’s willing to let them off the hook if they work undercover to scam and blow the lid off a corrupt congressman. Irving ends up using all of his smarts to pull off a successful scam when the odds keep raising with so many changing variables involving the FBI, the mob and even his wife.
‘American Hustle’ has an organic flow, but still moves at a breakneck pace. It knows exactly when to be emotional, when to be hysterical and when to be sexy without wasting a beat. There are so many levels at play in this script for all these characters to shine and there is an undeniable charm in how they set out to achieve their own goals. Every character feels real and smart, including Jennifer Lawrence’s character. At first she just appears as an obnoxious wife who smokes too much and blows up the microwave, but she’s smart enough to keep a grip on her husband until she finally discovers what truly makes her happy in life. Needless to say, the performances from this all-star cast is a joy to witness. Christian Bale proves that he can fill just about any role as he embodies Irving with a potbelly and comb over.
At over 2 hours, ‘American Hustle’ felt like it went by too quickly given the quickness of the script and direction. We get to spend a lot of time with these characters and witness only the important and juicy scenes of this operation. Everything is kept extremely tight with hardly a single scene that doesn’t garner a laugh, a cringe or leave you salivating for more. At times the movie moves so fast that if you blink you’ll miss the ending. This may be a deterrent for some, but I just couldn’t get enough of how director David O. Russel was able to keep things moving with a smart and sexy vibe. It’s most certainly a film I’m going to want to come back to if not for the layered performances than for the amount of details that zooms past the screen.
If you’re familiar with the life of Walt Disney, you know there was a little more than fairy dust and magic that went into his works. There’s a tale to be told of just about every film he’s credited on with some charming and some scandalous. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is a little of both in how the cocky dreamer attempts to acquire the rights for adapting ‘Mary Poppins’ into a feature film.
His biggest hurdle is the original author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). She completely loathes the Disney machine and can’t stand the thought of her novel being slapped up on the big screen by a cartoonist. It’s especially insulting given how personal the story and character are to her, relating to her rocky childhood in Australia. As we’re slowly given bits and pieces about Travers’ youth and the relationship with her father, the author finally decides to sell her novel to avoid poverty, but only under her conditions. A jaded Traver’ pops on over to Los Angeles where she supervises the writing process with meticulous and absurd demands. She even comments on the way the script should appear as she doesn’t understand or much care for the script writing format. The majority of the movie is a battle of personal goals as Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his team attempt to woo Travers into reaching a compromise.
The film jumps back and forth between Travers’ youth and her fight with Disney. Sometimes the two stories match up with the tone and other times it feels like an opportunity was missed for transitions. The story of young Travers’ eccentric father (Collin Farrell) and his downward spiral is certainly a tragic tale, but it feels very melodramatic in several aspects. To tell the truth, I was much more moved by the relationship adult Travers forms with her limo driver (Paul Giamatti). He first appears as an over-eager Disney servant, but ends up being the most sympathetic and interesting character that Travers comes into contact with. That’s not to say that Tom Hanks doesn’t do an exceptional job as the legendary Walt Disney. I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone else in that role and the playful bickering he has with Travers is priceless. Credit should also be given to the ‘Poppins’ creative team (Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Scwartzman) who put up with most of her crazy suggestions including the removal of the color red entirely from the film.
Ultimately, the performances were the main draw of ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ more than anything. Considering the film was actually a Walt Disney production, it does embellish the story in how Travers eventually comes to accept the screen version of ‘Mary Poppins’ (despite going against many of her initial wishes). The drama of both Travers’ father and her acceptance of what her novel really means feels a tad bit overdone the way it was written. Thankfully, the performances by every single cast member is pitch-perfect. I especially couldn’t keep my eyes off Thompson and Hanks whenever they’re clashing on screen. The most memorable moment is when a stone-faced Travers is lured into Disney Land with a vibrantly grinning Walt. She isn’t impressed or swayed by his words, but Walt is still happy as he was at least able to win a bet by getting her on the carousel. The constant back and forth between them make this otherwise exaggerated script much more appealing and entertaining than it should be.
Time travel isn’t a science fiction element exclusive to the genre that birthed it. If I’ve learned anything from the Back to the Future trilogy, it’s that the ability to manipulate the past and future can spawn many different stories. About Time does just that: it takes a character with the ability to change the past and has him use his powers to find the perfect woman romantic comedy style.
Right off the bat, I had serious doubts about this story. I’ve been burned before with this concept as with the incredibly boring The Time Traveler’s Wife and the predictably routine Click. Luckily, this was a movie in the hands of Richard Curtis (Love Actually). And while Curtis doesn’t really think through the whole time travel angle, he does know how to craft an enjoyable rom-com.
When Nick has finally come of age to move out of his parents lush home, his dad reveals that the men of the family have the amazing ability to turn back time by simply thinking about a point in time. He tests this out by going into the closet, thinking about the New Years party he was at last night and ends up back at that very point in time. Every element recurs unless of course Nick desires to change it. This allows him to craft the perfect life where just about every mistake he makes with the girl he desires most can be averted. Every line can be a gem, every kiss can be the best and every move will be perfect. But there’s always a catch when it comes to messing with time and Nick soon learns the consequences and how he can’t exactly save everyone.
Though the film’s main goal is to present a charming romantic comedy involving time travel, it also has a lot to do with the relationship between Nick and his father. The two of them, sharing the same ability, chat a lot about what good can come of this power and how best to use it. You really get a sense of more or less the reality of these powers as Nick’s father covers what he’s spent most of his life achieving and regretting with changing time. You can use this power to read every book in the world twice or become a famous actor several times over, but none of it beats a date with your favorite girl or a game of ping pong with your dad.
As a warning, don’t go in expecting a satisfying portrayal of time travel. The whole concept of time travel itself doesn’t make much sense in cinema to begin with, but the inconsistencies are a little more visible here. The rules of Nick and has dad’s abilities are played very loose as you can apparently take others with you as you travel to the past. The implied paradoxes of adding another character for the journey not to mention that Nick at one point uses his power to travel back to his childhood would make one’s head explode. Take a cue from the Austin Powers films and don’t overanalyze it too much.
If you’re willing to go along with suspension of disbelief, About Time is a very pleasing romance romp with a unique concept. There are plenty of likable characters, genuine comedy and real emotion to fuel the entire redoing a timeline concept. As someone who wasn’t fond of the concept or romantic comedies in general, I was very surprised at how entertained I was by the whole scenario. For being Richard Curtis’ final film, he certainly turns in an astonishingly heartwarming story that touches so many bases about life, love and family. It’s not exactly a masterpiece of the genre, but the movie is irresistible enough to bring a smile to even the most jaded audience.