Jeremy Renner

December 6, 2013

Early Returns: American Hustle

SILKY

American Hustle – Silky

The name David O. Russell can evoke a lot of emotions, especially if you talk to either George Clooney or Lily Tomlin.  The man has the special talent to bring both the best, and worst, out in people.  While there is no doubt Russell can be called a total prick, there is also no doubt that the guy has been putting out quality films since “Spanking the Monkey” all the way back in 1994.  Almost 20 years later, Russell has released his most refined, and silky, film to date in “American Hustle,” starring the likes of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Russell’s newest muse, Jennifer Lawrence.

“Hustle” is the tale of two con artists (Bale and Adams) who are forced to join forces with an FBI Agent (Bradley Cooper) who has entirely too much to prove. The unlikely trio set out to uncover corruption that involves a fake sheik, members of Congress, the Mafia, and a local mayor of Camden, New Jersey, played by Jeremy Renner.  Throw in a nagging wife, played wonderfully by Lawrence, and those are the basics of “Hustle.”

While I might have just simplified the plot for spoiler’s-sake above, the film is much more than your standard grifters-on-the-run-from-the-law story.  I’d liken “Hustle” very much to “Goodfellas” in it’s storytelling and use of the 1970s as the backdrop.  I also mention “Goodfellas” in it’s use of a very interesting cameo that I won’t mention, again, for spoiler’s-sake.

While I will commend Russell for his direction and vision, the acting really shines in “Hustle.”  I have no doubt in my mind that all four main actors, Adams, Bale, Cooper, and Lawrence, will be up for Oscars come February.  I’ll even go as far as saying that this will be Adams’ Oscar year.  Her turn as Sydney Prosser is magical, and proves that Adams is one of the best actresses in the business that still seems to be overlooked.  Lawrence steals the show in the scenes she’s in, and the same goes for Cooper.  Bale is the rock of the film however, and provides a calming cool to the insanity that seems to swirl around him.  Renner is fine in his role as Mayor Carmine Polito, but one of the best unsung performances will go to Louis C.K, who plays the brow-beaten boss of Cooper’s unhinged FBI Agent.

Like I mentioned before, this is Russell’s “Goodfellas.”  Loosely based on actual events, Russell weaves a story that has you guessing until the very end, and much like Martin Scorsese does in most of his films, music plays a major part.  Russell picks some of the best music from 70’s, and makes Duke Ellington, and his music, one of the points of attraction between Bale and Adams’ characters, and it makes sense in the scheme, no pun intended, of things.  Jazz artists like Ellington had to improve all the time, it’s the heartbeat of jazz, improvisation, and you can say the same thing for people running cons; constant improvisation.  The allegory is fantastic, if you catch it, but it’s not entirely relevant to the overall plot, just a cute little thing that Russell throws into his film.

At it’s core, “Hustle” is a caper film in the spirit of “Jackie Brown” and “Catch Me If You Can.”  It has spunk, heart, and like I said before, is silky smooth, with plenty of style to spare.  Best film of the year?  Let’s not quite go there yet, but if “Hustle” is any inclination of the films to come the rest of 2013, we should be in store for plenty of treats the rest of the month of December.  Christmas comes early with “American Hustle.”

Fun Fact:  The story of “American Hustle” is loosely based on the events of ABSCAM, in the late 1970s and 1980s.    

August 26, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

LACKING

All my cards on the table.  I love the Bourne Trilogy.  I absolutely love it.  It pretty much redefined the spy genre and possibly the action drama genre into what we see now.  Daniel Craig’s realistic Bond is a DIRECT RESULT of Jason Bourne.  The popularity of gritty realistic action films and shaky cam action scenes (Some done right.  Most done WRONG) are a DIRECT RESULT of Paul Greengrass’s Bourne Supremacy & Ultimatum.  The trilogy starring Matt Damon is in my top three favorite trilogies of ALL TIME.  They are perfect to me.  So much so, I actually didn’t want them to make any more.  A rarity for me because I always want more.  But for Bourne, because it was so perfect, I wanted it to end the way it did.  And for a while there, I got my wish.  Greengrass dropped out of a planned fourth film and Damon said he wouldn’t make another without Greengrass.  My perfect trilogy was safe.  But then Universal realized that other than that dumb street racing franchise…they had no other cash cow.  Enter The Bourne Legacy.

The Bourne Legacy isn’t a sequel.  It is a side story that takes place in the same universe as the Bourne Trilogy.  To the franchise’s credit, they never make the following film a stereotypical sequel.  Events in each film jump around through a linear timeline set up by story mastermind Tony Gilroy.  He and most of the original cast are back with some new blood sprinkled in.  I appreciated this as an effort to make Legacy stand out and be different while still using the foundation set by Damon and Greengrass.  However, these things hinder Legacy’s success to either the uninitiated or the…how should I put this….simple minded populous who want their films to just have stuff that blow up real good.

Days before I saw Legacy, I still heard people saying that Jeremy Renner was the new Jason Bourne…He’s Not.  I still heard people saying this was a reboot of the franchise…It’s Not.  I heard people saying Matt Damon would make a cameo…He Doesn’t.  This isn’t entirely the people’s fault.  The way Gilroy sets up the story, the way the film was marketed, the way the title reads all aids in the confusion.  The word Bourne isn’t what you should focus on in this film.  The word you should focus on is Legacy.  The film is entirely about how the actions of Jason Bourne and, more importantly, Pam Landy effect certain people in the government.  It is a film about fallout.  And though I understand that The Landy Fallout isn’t a particularly catchy title, it would be a more accurate one.

With all that baggage out of the way, how is the film?  Its just fine.  Gilroy, now writing and directing instead of just writing, is a fine replacement for Greengrass.  Jeremy Renner’s character Aaron Cross, though a little less likable than Damon’s Jason Bourne, is fine as a lead.  The story, though a tad too complex for the uninitiated, is fine.  Ed Norton and Stacy Keach are fine as the baddies.  But what is still LACKING from Bourne Legacy?  I’ll give you two guess and the first one doesn’t count.

Matt Damon is what makes this franchise go.  He is the heart, the engine, the…fill in a metaphor relating to importance…that drives this universe.  Without him, without Jason Bourne, any installment in this series just feels like a really expensive fan film.  The universe itself isn’t strong enough to carry a film without him as it was for, lets say, The Dark Knight Rises.  You need more Jason than they give you, if only to serve as a smoother transition into caring for Aaron Cross.

And on a personal note, replacing composer John Powell with James Newton Howard is a HUGE MISTAKE.  Powell’s scores for Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum are legendary.  It would be like switching John Williams from Indiana Jones or Danny Elfman from Batman ’89.  Howard’s score is color by numbers at best.   In a film DEPENDANT on it’s audience following the Bourne universe, how do you not use the man that sets that universe’s perfect tone?  John Powell is sorely missed.

Rumor has it that a film with Damon and Renner teaming up could come as a result of Legacy’s success.  For that reason alone, I support it.  However, I’m a fanboy of the franchise.  I don’t expect anyone else to see a possible Bourne/Cross team-up as a good enough reason to watch a film that is fine but is also LACKING.  If you watch it…you’ll be hard pressed to tell me I’m wrong.

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