Cuban Fury

At first look, Cuban Fury appears like one of those guilty pleasures that doesn’t need much justification beyond the fact that it’ll make audiences laugh. But, in what isn’t entirely unsurprising for a comedy starring Nick Frost, there is a lot more to like.

The movie tells the story of Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost), a lathe designer who was a gifted salsa dancer as a child but gave up on his dream when he was beaten to a pulp by bullies on his way to the UK National Salsa Championship. Although he enjoys technical drawing, he is a man without confidence and joy, a lack of spirit that is only made worse by the constant bullying coming his way courtesy of work colleague and alpha male Drew (Chris O’Dowd). When new boss Julia (Rashida Jones) arrives from the US and reveals that she loves salsa, Bruce’s heart skips a beat. He decides to go back to his old dance teacher Ron Parfait (Ian McShane) to freshen up on his moves so he can win Julia over with his passion. Drew, ever the restrained gentleman, meanwhile proudly proclaims he will do everything in his power to sleep with her.

There isn’t much more of a plot to the film, and that is perfectly fine because it lives off of its silly slapstick humour and the cast’s willingness to make fools out of themselves. Cuban Fury certainly lacks some of the craziness of Frost’s work with Simon Pegg, but it has just as much charm. In case you are wondering (and of course you are): yes, Simon Pegg does have a cameo appearance, and it’ll make you laugh out loud because it makes an absurd moment even stranger.

One of the film’s best features is that Bruce Garrett isn’t simply the chubby loser who has to convince his love interest that he’s a better man than the misogynist liar she’s currently hanging out with; it is, in fact, clear from the onset that Julia has taken a liking to him (even if he, in his lack of confidence, can’t see it). Refreshingly, and contrary to stereotypical rom-coms, the supporting cast receives great treatment, too. While Olivia Colman does a good job of the sort-of-alcoholic sister Sam, the true star is Kayvan Novak as over-the-top flamboyant Bejan, a fellow salsa dancer who befriends Bruce. You could even go as far as claiming that Novak steals the scene each moment that he is on screen, whether he is talking about throwing a grenade into some “bitches” at the club, or casually mentioning that he has to leave for his ball-wax appointment.

Frost and O’Dowd play well off of each other, but it is in the climactic dance-off on the roof that they both come into their own and deliver the fight that may just be the reason for the film’s Cuban Fury title. “What happens at lunch stays at lunch” they proclaim before proceeding to show off their dance skills to each other in increasingly ridiculous moves all the way to backflips. If you want absurdly silly, this is it.

Frost and O’Dowd both impress, unsurprisingly, with their comedic timing, and it is always fun to see lovable nerd Roy (O’Dowd’s career-making role in the televisio sitcom The IT Crowd) playing a sleazy low-life. The film may stick closely to that of an underdog story, but it is nice to see that Cuban Fury isn’t simply a love story. In fact, it isn’t actually one at all: it’s really about a man finding the confidence to pursue his dreams and stand up to his bullies.

Frost’s first solo outing is a feel-good comedy and a true pleasure to watch. The cast shines and, although it starts off slow, the dialogue gets funnier as the movie progresses. Kayvan Novak’s Bejan needs a spin-off, and it wouldn’t be entirely disastrous if Nick Frost made more movies without Simon Pegg. Cuban Fury is an endearing British comedy – not the best one ever made, but certainly a solid attempt.

Swan Song

How did it end?
The sing—, ring—, clinging
to you with so much zest;
the liv—, lov—, leaning
on you with all my beating chest:
how did it end?

One night on a balcony,
one afternoon in a gallery,
one morning at a red light
(when I forgot to buy flowers)

How did it end?
A thousand little kisses,
a million (in)significant days,
a hundred missed smiles,
a dozen burned bridges:
how did it end?

My heart will hold you forever,
remember you as my favourite sin:
how did it end, how did it begin?

12 Years a Slave

Based on the eponymous memoir, 12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped into slavery to work on Southern plantation farms in antebellum America. Living happily with his wife and children in New York, Solomon is a gifted violin player, and gets tricked into following two men to Washington DC: they hire him as a musician for their circus, but after the shows are all done, get him drunk and sell him off to illegal slave traders. Solomon is shipped to New Orleans under horrific circumstances (one of the other slaves is killed by the captain when he tries to protect a slave woman from being raped), and meets his buyer (Paul Giamatti) who quickly organises an auction to make a profit off of his newest batch of slaves.

Solomon is bought by Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), and taken to his farm where he almost immediately makes an enemy of overseer Tibeats (Paul Dano) by showing off his engineering skills to Ford and gaining the latter’s approval. Although Ford is, as far as a slave owner goes, a decent man, he can’t protect Solomon from Tibeats and so sells him on to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps prides himself on breaking people, and has severe anger management issues. Solomon eventually manages to earn some money with his violin playing, but when he gives it to fellow, white, slave Armsby (Garret Dillahunt), he uses it to buy his own freedom and disappears without ever fulfilling his promise to contact Solomon’s family so that they could send his papers proving he is a free man. And so it is only after twelve years when Solomon meets Bass (Brad Pitt), a Canadian profoundly and openly opposed to slavery, that he sees his chance to escape.

12 Years a Slave is a quintessentially American film about the country’s greatest sin. Using their god-given right to own their fellow men as property to do with as they please, the traders and plantation owners are the worst of humanity but also victims of their time. On the one hand, Ford treats his slaves with respect (he even gives Solomon a violin) and on the other hand, Epps tortures them emotionally and physically with a deeply sadistic pleasure. They both quote from the bible constantly, and yet one’s darkness is far greater than the other’s.

The problem with 12 Years a Slave is that it is a quintessentially American film. It is hard to digest the truths of the film – well-known as they are – and care much for the slaves, because the feeling of guilt is missing. It isn’t entirely clear whether that’s due to the non-American viewpoint or because the script doesn’t actually make any efforts to have you empathise with Solomon. There is a whole lot of telling, and not much showing: about the only thing you do see is a good amount of violence, but that alone doesn’t really get you emotionally involved. Solomon never really seems all that bothered that he is a slave now, choosing rather to accept his fate. Although he states early on that he doesn’t just want to survive, he spends the decade doing just that – and even shouting at a woman who’s crying at the loss of her children. If he has chosen to suppress his emotions it is never made clear what drove him to that decision.

Intriguingly, Solomon himself isn’t entirely a good man: when told to punish a fellow slave woman because she ran away to get some soap, he takes the whip and doesn’t show much emotion while she’s screaming at the pole. Maybe Chiwetel Ejiofor’s flat performance is at fault here more than the script, or maybe it’s both; not much is done with his willingness to be evil himself in either case.

12 Years a Slave is filled with average performances, some disappointing ones and only really one outstanding tour-de-force. Benedict Cumberbatch disappoints (it’s mainly his horrific attempt at a Southern accent), Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard and Garret Dillahunt don’t get enough screentime to shine, Lupita Nyong’o does a decent job of a stereotypical character and Paul Dano isn’t given enough character depth to deliver a truly compelling performance. Michael Fassbender, however, excels in his portrayal of plantation owner Epps and portrays the emotional spectrum of god-fearing man to perverted sadist to self-obsessed lover with such bravura it feels like he is the true star of the film. It’s a testament to Fassbender’s skills, but it’s also proof that the script is very conflicted: surely we should emptathise with the slaves and not be intrigued by the anti-hero. Perhaps it would have been better if Solomon had been played by someone who could match Fassbender’s emotional range instead of Chiwetel Ejiofor.

When watching 12 Years a Slave, you can’t help but feel that many of the movie’s accolades are based entirely on the fact that it is an American film about an American subject made for American audiences. Cinema specific to a country’s history isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this particular case it is done badly because it fails to bridge the gap to foreign audiences. Is it a must-see? No. As hard as McQueen has tried to deliver a masterpiece, he has created a cinematographically stunning but badly written film – nevermind the fact that he fails entirely to convey the passage of time, and if it weren’t for the title the entire story might as well have taken place over the course of six months.

I, Frankenstein

I, Frankenstein doesn’t necessarily look like a film you could particularly enjoy. The trailer is somewhat silly with its gargoyles and demons fighting each other, and Frankstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) bang in the middle of it. That is, perhaps unsurprisingly, roughly also the entire film’s story – which is perfectly okay.

Based on the eponymous graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, I, Frankenstein opens in 1795, as the monster is burying Victor Frankenstein and gets attacked by demons. Taken to the sacred ground of a cathedral in an unnamed city, he is informed by the gargoyle queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) that there is a war waging between good versus evil across the world. Their order is the side of light, while prince Naberius’ army is the darkness. Naberius wants to capture Adam, as the monster is now called, to figure out how to raise thousands of corpses from the dead and have them taken over by demons. Two hundred years later, in the present day, Naberius has hired a scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) to help him on his quest. She is, of course, completely unaware of what is really going on and thinks she is on her way to cure death and help humanity. She quickly joins Adam once she figures out the truth.

The film’s merit isn’t the plot, but if you manage to suspend any disbelief (gargoyles fighting demons is a strange concept to get to grips with at first) you are in for truly epic popcorn cinema. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are beautifully choreographed and a wonderful pleasure to watch. When demons get killed, they go up in flames – and there is a lot of beautifully animated fire in the film. In short, I, Frankenstein is visually stunning, and a good reason to watch it on the big screen instead of grabbing it on DVD or even BluRay. This is a movie clearly made for the cinema, not for a television.

Aaron Eckhart plays Frankenstein’s monster perfectly – the quiet anger, the self-hatred, the loneliness and the aversion to trust other beings. Miranda Otto, perhaps best known as Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, manages to swing so easily from emotion to cold-hearted warrior queen it is a delight to watch her. Yvonne Strahovski, who showed off her skills as the serial killer Hannah McKay on Dexter, sadly disappoints as the naive scientist, but also doesn’t get much from the script to use her full potential. The most praise however has to go to Bill Nighy, who is known more for his comedies than for playing villains. His dark prince Naberius is the epitomy of evil: he is ruthless, has no morality and is obsessed with ruling all of humanity. To watch Nighy jump from pretend-Mr-Nice-CEO to murdering demon alone gets this film an additional star.

If I, Frankenstein’s visual world looks familiar, it’s because it is very reminiscent of the Underworld franchise, which was also written by Kevin Grevioux. Whether such consistency across universes is a good or a bad thing might be a matter of personal taste, but the atmosphere created definitely works in both.

The film leaves enough of an open end to allow a sequel. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, if they kept the same cast and combat choreographers. At an hour and a half, the film is over too quickly and feels very short with its quick cuts and fast action scenes – but its short running time also stops it from dragging out a plot that’s barely existent. I, Frankenstein knows what it is and makes no effort to be a serious film. If you like the good-vs-evil fantasy genre with a bit of a silly twist, then you will love I, Frankenstein. Don’t miss it.


She glides so quietly through dreams,
spreads her colourful wings gracefully:
brush strokes for a work of art.
Children’s footsteps follow her with ease
as she circles these hibernal fields
carrying all their wishes in her heart
and all their sorrows in her song.
Infinite and endless is her mind,
her love as universal as it is kind,
forever forgiving for that is her truth:
bring her sadness and she will soothe.
Find her at night but leave her at dawn,
meet her at morn and she will move on.


Robocop, the remake of the eponymous 1987 cult film starring Peter Weller, is a mostly plotless, if visually almost decent, snoozefest. Set in the near future of 2028, it presents us with a dystopian world in which highly efficient robots, all built by the same multinational, Omnicorp, are keeping the streets outside America safe, but the Dreyfus Act stops the company from putting robots on US soil where crime is rampant.

Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), a right-wing TV anchor, narrates the story’s framework through his show The Novak Element – an obvious and cheap shot at The Bill O’Reilly Factor on FOX News so much so it doesn’t deserve to be called satire. Novak constantly and openly manipulates the truth to fit his narrative but keeps failing and eventually simply descends into swearing.

Omnicorp is desperate to enter the lucrative market of America and put more merchandise on the street, but needs a product to sway the public’s opinion. Enter Detective Alex Murphy, who gets blown to pieces by Detroit’s most dangerous druglord. The head of Omnicorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and his PR manager (Jay Baruchel) talk wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) into letting them rebuild him as a robot with a human mind that the American people can rally behind.

Although Dr Norton (Gary Oldman) rewires Alex’s brain so the computer controls him and not the other way around, Alex – very predictably – almost immediately overrides the system and puts himself back in control. How he did it is a throwaway ‘I don’t have a clue’ line uttered by the doctor. Alex tracks down and kills his murderer within the space of five minutes (talk about “most dangerous druglord”) and then (in a twist so boring it’s hard not to fall asleep) realises that Sellars wasn’t the nice man he pretended to be.

That’s the entire film, right there, and it’s very hard to find any redeeming features. The plot is full of holes – Dr Norton and his assistant constantly talk about Alex’s heart rate, but when we see him without the suit it turns out he doesn’t actually have a heart anymore. The violence is bloodless and the effects look so much like a shoot-em-up computer game that you wish you had a controller to put some more action into those scenes.

It is actually sad to see Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson and Abbie Cornish waste their time trying to pull out something of a script that really has no depth. It’s not entirely clear why anyone thought Jay Baruchel was a good casting choice, but he also doesn’t get any decent lines or character depth to maybe show some potential. Michael Keaton does his best, but the moments when he could have shined as the villain are all compressed into his final scene and that’s a very short one. Joel Kinnaman’s flat performance as the titular Robocop is entirely forgettable, which is actually not even the script’s fault.

The problem with Robocop isn’t that it’s a remake. The problem with Robocop is that it is a really bad film. The prescience of the original is entirely lost, because it’s almost two decades later and neither writer David Self nor director José Padilha bothered to really update the themes to the current climate. You could easily blame this on the fact that the film was watered down to a PG13 / 12A. You shouldn’t, because a lack of blood isn’t the film’s problem. The lack of a villain and the lack of a plot are.

Robocop starts off slowly, and then doesn’t gain momentum for its entire two-hour run. Where the trailer promised quick cuts and action, the movie has neither. The CGI is mostly nice to look at (although you can clearly see in which shots they saved money) but making everything look shiny and new doesn’t qualify as good – remake or not. There is a hint of an interesting question early on when they show the effects of replacing Alex’s body with a robot: are we just the thoughts in our brain or is the perception of ourselves based on our bodies? Unfortunately, that question vanishes as quickly from the screen as does the will to live from Gary Oldman’s eyes.

Robocop could have been a poignant analysis of today’s technologies and its political and moral implications. It could have been a great psychological drama about human consciousness. It could have been a violent action film with a lot of bloodshed. Really, it could have been all those things at once, but it is none of them.

In short, Robocop is already the frontrunner for the most predictable, least original film of the decade. If it will be remembered at all, it’ll simply be for how abysmal it was. Save your money, save your time and go see Inside Llewyn Davis or The Wolf of Wall Street instead.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis follows one week in 1961 in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). Davis is an out-of-luck folk singer who sleeps on friends’ couches, has a manager who doesn’t actually do much promoting, and struggles by with gigs at a local bar, where he can’t however step out of the shadow of his two friends Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan). He is haunted by his past of being part of a double-act that enjoyed some success until his parter (Marcus Mumford) committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington bridge, and he has completely lost his way in life as well as creatively. Whether he has always been unsociable and easily irritated is never explained.

Llewyn Davis is, as Jean tells him in the film, “an asshole”. He doesn’t care for much apart from his music, and he doesn’t seem to believe much in that either, despite having a lot of talent. He takes a liking to a cat for a while, but eventually abandons her. He gets Jean pregnant and then asks her husband Jim for money so he can pay for the abortion, all while, of course, not telling him who the woman is. In short, Davis is not, by any measure, a good man, and yet you can’t help but empathise with him. That’s a tribute to the ingenuity of the Coen brothers who have written and directed a melancholic masterpiece with Inside Llewyn Davis.

The film is, surprisingly, devoid of a traditional soundtrack: the only time you hear music is when characters are actually singing. The soundtrack is beautiful, and to the credit of all the actors, they actually sing themselves – and, importantly, can sing. That’s less surprising for Justin Timberlake, but all the more surprising for Adam Driver, who plays wannabe cowboy Al Cody, and is probably best known for playing Adam on Girls. The underlying silence intensifies the claustrophobia that hangs over every dialogue: it is obvious throughout the entire film that all the characters are stuck and won’t be able to grow before the end. The tragedy and irony lies in Llewyn Davis being the only one to recognise his impuissance, with everyone around him blaming their own powerlessness on him.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterful black comedy that will make you sadder every time you laugh at one of the absurd moments Davis encounters. Indeed, the laughter is a release for the crushing reality of the film, and even the film’s funniest moment, Llewyn’s, Jim’s and Al’s recording of the incredibly silly “Please, Mr Kennedy” song, is overshadowed by the fact that Llewyn plans on using his commission to pay for Jim’s wife’s abortion.

Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis wonderfully, and captures so much sorrow in his portrayal and voice he steals every scene, including the ones opposite John Goodman. To see Carey Mulligan play an angry, self-obsessed woman is truly refreshing and definitely an asset to her filmography. Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver remain, unfortunately, underused but portray their respective characters with ease. In the end, however, all the actors are almost secondary to the atmosphere Inside Llewyn Davis creates – underlined by the fact that the film is essentially plotless and rather a snapshot of these lives.

Although “Llewyn” is consistently, and irritatingly, pronounced incorrectly by everyone, you can forgive them because there’s an incredibly funny rant about Welsh rarebit between Llewyn and Roland Turner (John Goodman) to make up for it.

In summary, at every one of its 104 minutes, the film is a character study that breaks your heart and never tries to put the pieces back together. When you leave the cinema, you’ll carry with you a sense of unease and hopelessness that makes Inside Llewyn Davis one of those rare gems that won’t let go of you for a long time.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Inspired by a true story (yes, another one), The Wolf of Wall Street shows the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Arriving on Wall Street a naive but ambitious young man, Belfort joins an established company where his boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) immediately advises him to jerk off at least twice a day and do cocaine. The goal is to not feel any stress and to stay focused on taking rich people’s money away. The company promptly fails on Black Monday shortly afterwards.

Unemployed, Belfort takes a job with a penny stock dealer and thanks to his unique, aggressive pitching style he quickly makes a small fortune that he uses to hire Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), a salesman living in the same building as Belfort and his wife, and start his own company, Stratton Oakmont Inc. He hires his friends, most of them drug dealers, and trains them to pump and dump stock onto unsuspecting customers.

The scam is successful, and after Forbes features Belfort and Stratton Oakmont in an article that dubs him “the wolf of Wall Street” (you can read the original article here), hundreds of young hopeful stockbrokers are knocking on his door to get hired. Everything seems to be going well for the fraudsters, but behind the scenes FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) has already started investigating the seemingly reputable company.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a tale of wonderfully disgusting debauchery, a highly cynical celebration of villainy and a black comedy that perverts every last vice into a virtue. The film lacks any subtlety and that’s what makes it work so well: it’s a freak show of depraved people that have tricked their way into so much money they lost all their morals and arrived at a stage where they literally don’t know what to do with all their wealth anymore. At one moment, Belfort just throws money into the bin, and another time he pays a female member of staff to have all her hair shaved off in front of everyone.

Scorsese is subversive in his portrayal of money’s corrupting effects on the people surrounding Jordan and Donnie. While we do get to see a woman smiling through her tears of humiliation as her hair is shaven off, she is drowned out visually and aurally by the half-naked men and women dancing around her and Jordan Belfort howling on stage (yes, he had a stage built in the office).

The true achievement of The Wolf of Wall Street lies in the way the humour makes you overlook most of the corruption, it makes you laugh at the midget-throwing, the gay orgy organised by Belfort’s butler, the arrogance of taping money to a woman’s breasts to smuggle it into Switzerland. And then, when you come out of the film it hits you all at once at how truly horrible you should really feel about yourself for laughing at all of those things. Above all, you’ll feel especially bad for vaguely hoping that the FBI won’t catch Belfort.

At three hours and a very accomplished script, The Wolf of Wall Street is undeniably Scorsese’s latest magnum opus, but it is also proof that DiCaprio’s greatest talent might be in comedy. When Jordan Belfort is pumped so full of drugs he cannot move his legs anymore and resorts to crawling downstairs and into his car by imitating the movements of his baby, you’ll find yourself with tears running down your face. To say that Jonah Hill is a revelation after what is mostly a string of mediocre comedies in his career would be an understatement, for he plays the greedy, drug-addicted best friend so exquisitely he almost steals the show from DiCaprio.

The Wolf of Wall Street flies by, especially for a three hour movie, and with one scene more outrageous than the last, it feels more like ninety minutes. The year is young, but this could well be the comedy of the year. It definitely is an instant classic either way.

The Railway Man

Joining the avalanche of “based on a true story” films that have been hitting our screens lately, The Railway Man is a World War II movie with a difference: you don’t ever actually see any battles nor is it a love story as such. In fact, the love story that the film does contain is misleading, although that doesn’t diminish the performance of Nicole Kidman as the inquisitive, loving wife. Although the first third of the film largely concentrates on Lomax (Colin Firth) meeting Patti on a train he wasn’t planning to be on, then tracking her down by figuring out which train she would have needed to take to get to where her journey was continuing (he really loves trains and train schedules), their first date and the wedding, it quickly transpires that it is essentially just a plot device to drive the actual story.

Told from a 1980 framework, the movie shows both the experiences of a young Lieutenant Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) surrendering with his troop and being tortured as a slave in 1942 and the traumatic effects this experience has had on his life in the ‘present day’. The opening scene has us find an old Lomax (Colin Firth) on the floor, reciting a poem that turns into a touchstone over the course of the film as he recites it at various moments, sometimes more, sometimes less violent, but always emotionally tense.

As his wife pushes Lomax’s best friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård) into telling her what happened in 1942 – Lomax was caught using a radio and brutally tortured for weeks – Finlay eventually discovers that Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), the man responsible for the torture, is still alive and working as a guide on the old site now turned into a museum. Through dramatic action, Finlay convinces Lomax to travel to Burma and confront his past. What he finds there and how it changes both him and Nagase is so crushingly human you’ll wish more stories were like this.

Colin Firth may have won an Academy Award for his portrayal as King George VI in The King’s Speeech, but it is here, in The Railway Man as a soldier, where he truly shines and delivers a tour de force performance that will leave you with goosebumps throughout and quite a while after the film. Stellan Skarsgård plays the torn friend so convincingly you could be forgiven for forgetting he ever was other characters, and Tanroh Ishida is a revelation with his cold-blooded, calm yet sadistic portrayal of the young Nagase.

It is a slow film, based largely on dialogue and carefully designed scenery and while violence is shown, it is never one that the audience would be unfamiliar with from other war movies or news broadcasts. This is easily one of the film’s greatest merits as it could have so easily descended into gore. In fact, The Railway Man is technically flawless. Jumping in between present day and past continuously, it’s only the shots of Lomax and his wife that are medium close-ups — and often they are wide shots, too, much like the rest of the film. The director, Jonathan Teplitzky, does give us some multi-layer shots but they are only used to symbolize the emotional and rational chaos that is going inside of old Lomax’s mind. The largest part of the film is shot in wide-angle, which creates two important effects: for one, the audience always stays slightly removed from the events that are being told — it functions as a sign of respect rather than an emotional distance — and secondly, it intensifies the feeling that Lomax is being crushed by his surroundings as they tower over him and he only occupies a small part of the screen. If you have ever watched BBC’s noir crime drama Luther, you’ll be more than familiar with that technique.

Ultimately, The Railway Man is an epic tale of forgiveness. It might look like a tale of revenge in the trailer, and it might even feel that way for much of the film, but it is not. In fact, even though he comes close to getting revenge, it is always clear that he does not actually want it and is really seeking something else.

The Railway Man is a masterpiece, and one of the greatest war movies you will ever see. Clocking in at 116 minutes, it’ll keep you at the edge of your seat the entire way through.

American Hustle

“Some of this actually happened” reads the titular card as the film opens, and while there is a kernel of truth to the story, there might as well not be: the characters and the setting are as over-the-top and unbelievable as any long-con. It is simultaneously the film’s merit and its problem.

Set in 1978, American Hustle follows the events surrounding the FBI’s real-life Abscam sting, which targeted corrupt officials. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Posser (Amy Adams) are running a short-con of tricking desperate people out of money by promising them to invest it with their London partners and making them ten times the money back. That is until they’re caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him take down New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), Floridian mobster Victor Tellegio (Robert De Niro) and countless corrupt Congressmen who want to turn Atlantic City into a casino haven.

American Hustle takes a long time to get going, and during the initial setup of tricking the mayor severely struggles to hold attention. Despite an illustrious cast and an array of haircuts that are as impressive as the CGI in other films, Eric Singer and David O. Russell fail to create a plot that holds its own. This isn’t necessarily surprising, Russell has already shown his strength to be characters and not plot in Silver Linings Playbook, which even had much of the same cast and turned from two emotionally damaged people trying to become friends and saving each other from themselves to a bad love story in the last ten minutes.

Originally produced as American Bullshit, the film may just as well have been called American Dream. Russell yet again manages to present intriguing character studies. At its core it is a tale of reinvention and of climbing up the ladder, whether it’s Rosenfeld looking to find true love and get away from his depressed and manipulative wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), Posser by calling herself Edith and taking on an English accent, or DiMaso by fighting his superior and mounting the Abscam sting to become a field officer. Rosenfeld constantly mentions the need to survive in his voice-over narration, and as the movie progresses it transpires that he means as much surviving within the world as surviving with his own self.

The film is silly, violent, steaming and fantastically ridiculous. As a pastiche of crime, political thriller, comedy and drama it defies genre definition. As such, it succeeds in encompassing everything great about contemporary American cinema by pretending to be American cinema of the late Seventies. It isn’t entertaining all the way through, much like the lives of its characters who struggle through and with the mundane, and in that regard the dragging moments actually work well. It isn’t entirely clear whether that is intentional or a happy coincidence.

It is ironic that the sanest character in the entire movie, DiMaso’s superior, is played, astonishingly well, by comedian Louis C.K., and it is disconcerting that the most honest character is a politician, mayor Polito, who takes the bribe but does it for the ‘right’ reasons. Everyone else is either mentally unstable, self-obsessed, has severe anger issues, is emotionally damaged or suffers from bipolar disorder – and most suffer from any combination of those.

The actual con is very formulaic with a final twist that is predictable and unsatisfying, but perhaps that, too, was intentional. The cast will certainly bring audiences to the cinemas, but despite Bale’s willingness to inflict radical diets on his body, it is doubtful whether there wasn’t someone who could have portrayed a Jew from the Bronx better. Cooper on the other hand dominates every scene he’s in. Amy Adams might be a great actress, but the dramatically unjustified and irritating decision to have her walk around essentially half-naked the entire film distracted too much from her performance. De Niro’s appearance is so short it goes uncredited, and yet it is, unsurprisingly, a powerful appearance. The true star of the film is Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the depressed wife and mother so well that one cannot help but wish she’d gotten more screen time.

At 138 minutes, American Hustle feels just a bit too long, but has enough intriguing bits and funny moments to keep your interest mostly sparked to get you all the way through. It’s certainly worth seeing for the hairdos and the careful attention to set detail alone: if nothing else it really puts you, combined with a carefully selected soundtrack, into the Seventies. In the end though, you can’t help but feel like you’ve just watched a perfectly average film, not bad, but not great either.