Friday, January 3, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club and American Hustle

Dallas Buyers Club and American Hustle

Dallas Buyers Club

Oliver Stone is possibly my least favorite director. He takes powerful stories about people and makes them politically charged and heavy-handed. For this reason, I am immensely glad he had no interaction with Dallas Buyers Club.

It is a story about the plights of people, but it’s also a story of political statements. It’s a story about the dangers of controlling and unrepentant government. It’s about the dangers of capitalism, but also about all the good that capitalism can do if used correctly. The film could have been heavy-handed. Instead, it is quite the opposite.

The vast majority of the credit for this fine-line-walking goes to Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack for their funny, entertaining, touching, emotionally truthful adaptation of Bill Minutaglio’s 1992 article in The Dallas Morning News. It’s gritty and raw and all the more powerful and compelling because of it.

The film’s events are centered in Dallas, Texas, the city in which I have grown up, and on homophobic electrician and rodeo bum Ron Woodroof, who contracts HIV, which later turns into AIDS, from unprotected sex. His story is one of change and do-it-yourself Texas spirit, of hope and devastating illness, of sex and drugs and alcohol.

But it’s not without fault. Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction falters every once in a while, especially in the film’s final 30 minutes or so, and his editing, done with Martin Penza, has some real head-scratchers, many during that same 30-minute stretch.

Luckily for Vallée, McConaughey, who has decided, over the past two years or so, to make good movies for a change, is simply astonishing. For the 2nd time in the last 3 days, Chiwetel Ejiofor has been leap-frogged in my best male lead performance standings, and Isaac may be overtaken depending on how both he and McConaughey sit with me. McConaughey, as Woodroof, gives an electrifying, tour-de-force performance. Every line is perfectly delivered, every facial expression deftly handled (his eyes do most of the handiwork), every personal transformation pitch-perfect. He is immensely deserving of any and all accolades he has and will receive.

Jared Leto, as the homosexual, pre-op transsexual Rayon, is fabulous. He is incredibly convincing. His mannerisms are minimal, and those he does utilize seem like natural extensions of his body and his personality. He is helped in his transformation by his makeup, but I would have been convinced by his performance without his mascara, fake eyelashes, and lipstick. It is his performance of a lifetime, and, just like McConaughey, any accolades he has and will receive are much deserved.

Jennifer Garner is a pleasant surprise. As the film’s best argument for a moral center, she is touching and effortlessly likable. I only wish she and the script had given her character, Dr. Eve Saks, slightly more depth near the beginning of her screentime.

This is a film I loved. Contrary to what I’ve heard as a negative about Dallas Buyers, it is not disrespectful to gays nor does it take advantage of them. I was thoroughly engrossed throughout, and it’s ending, a classic example of personal failure followed by friendly adulation, is heartwarming and potentially tear-inducing instead of being schmaltzy and unbearably sentimental.


American Hustle:

Going into the theater for American Hustle, I had heard it described as brilliant or unremarkable. It is neither, but, on the whole, more of the latter.

Directed and co-written (with Eric Warren Singer) by David O. Russell, the film does a fantastic job recreating the late 1970s. The characters, too, are brilliantly written. They are wonderfully conceived, each one different than any other, yet with personality traits and personal situations recognizable to any viewer.

This praise aside, I was bored during pretty much the entire first 45 minutes of the film. The voiceovers provided by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper are uninspired. And for a heist movie, nothing of note happens, or even if it did, the editing by Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten is, at best, uninspired, and David O. Russell’s directing is pretty

The film’s opening act is also hurt by its lack of music. There just isn’t be any dramatic or comedic tension anywhere to be found in this opening act, and the lack of music, be it Danny Elfman’s nonexistent score or the film’s soundtrack, which kicks in later on and ends up being terrific, does nothing to help.

Luckily for the film, things pick up after this stretch of supreme boredom, and the film turns out a wonderfully entertaining film, much of which is due to Russell and Singer’s screenplay later on. It also picks up because the soundtrack is so great for the rest of the film. The acting also improves greatly, though it is still anything but perfect.

Amy Adams’ performance is the best in the film. After her voiceover debacle, she handles the script, which gives all 3 leads disparate character pieces to put together, extremely well. Everything she emotes is at once truthful and questionable. She is probably my favorite lead female performance of 2013, though I have almost all of the contenders left to see.

The film’s next best performance is given by Jennifer Lawrence, as many have said before me. She is absolutely hysterical. “The Power of Intention,” a scene she shares with Christian Bale, is my favorite of the film. Her outbursts seem entirely natural, and she deserves the Oscar nomination she will assuredly receive, though a win seems a little unnecessary, and not even because she won Best Actress last year.

Unfortunately, Christian Bale’s performance is mostly boring, especially early on, though he does have a couple of good scenes, but he mostly does nothing. His nonchalance makes him seem uninterested as opposed to being charming like he intends.

Bradley Cooper, instead of being boring, is all over the place. His underacts during the first act. Once the film’s pace improves, he alternating overacts and acts terrifically. It’s a scatter-shot performance for an all-over-the-place character, which it needn’t have been. It’s a surprising disappointment for an actor I thought did so well with a similarly all-over-the-place character in Silver Linings Playbook just a year ago.

So was there a male performance I actually thought was above average the entire time? Yes: Jeremy Renner. He’s great, especially during his speech at the hotel and in his final scene, but he isn’t given anything to do, which is a shame, really.

The ending, too, is pretty weak, and Bale’s terribly boring voiceover is much to blame.

That I’m giving the film this high of a score is a testament to the immense strength of it middle hour-and-fifteen-minutes. It is, at times, a great film, but too much of it amounts to nothing more than a series of potentially interesting and entertaining, but ultimately problematic, misfires.



  1. I felt American Hustle was an extremely problematic movie. I will say that I liked it because I did not mind watching it but it is a film with some terrible scenes. I might be getting to Bale and Cooper later so I will hold my thought on them for the most part other then I thought Bale was the best of the main four. I do agree about Renner though, and I thought Louis C.K. and De Niro did very well in their brief roles.

    I hated Jennifer Lawrence in this though, and it is the first time I disliked a performance from her. I thought her whole character was overwritten and too many scenes where just there for her to act. O'Russell again miscast her because she again clearly is younger than her character, but that is not even the problem. She overemphasizes everything and I thought her character's actions where downright obnoxious without being endearing in anyway. She also was part of the worst scene of the film with "Live and Let Die". Her overacting went terribly with the whole atrociously edited scene. She's been described as scene stealing but everything scene with her I felt belonged to Bale.

    Adams failed to make much of an impression on me at all besides that her accent was not strong enough, if it was suppose to fool Cooper's character into thinking she was actually English.

    The film itself I did think was a mess but a watchable enough one, as I just find true stories like this interesting anyway. The true story never fits with some of O'Russell's trademarks such as the wacky families, which seem so very out of place in a film like this. Again I did think it was okay, but a great film it is not.

  2. As for Dallas Buyers Club the film surprised me greatly, and those acting categories are really turning out to be something this year.