20 January 2014

FatMan and Robbing


I've recently been reading a lot about the psychologist Carl Jung partly because understanding his theories makes me feel smart but mostly because I enjoyed Michael Fassbender's performance of him in A Dangerous Method. Anyway, Jung came up with this idea of us all having a persona which acts as a kind of mask by which we present ourselves to the world. On the one hand we have this persona to highlight the aspects of ourselves that we think are great but on the other we use it to avoid others from finding out about the bits of us that are actually kind of shit. Some people might want to seem more relaxed or ‘hip’ than they really are whereas others just don't want to be suspected for killing all those prostitutes that they keep dead in the cellar. Facebook is a great way in which we can do this nowadays as we spend hours crafting the idealised version of ourselves for our friends to accept. We delete the crap photos where we look ugly, whilst using, as profile pictures, any in which we're stood next to a fat person or ideally anybody with something as uncouth as a hunchback.

We have an idea in our head of who we'd like to be seen to be, and so I suppose any time we're presented with options relating to our presentation then we go for the ones that support that image. A perfect way of figuring out what a person is about might be their clothes, the way they've decorated their house or even the style of their hair for example. Personally I have a ponytail which suggests that I like people to think that I'm laid back whilst at the same time suggesting a hatred of conformity... because a ponytail is an act of rebellion that's only slightly less clich├ęd than getting a shit tattoo of a skull and listening to heavy metal music. Although that is true, the other reason is that after years of battling with my shorter, sticky up hair, I eventually gave up and disowned the fucker... He does what he wants and I won't question it so long as he leaves me alone in return. Turns out that what my hair wants to do when left to its own devices is grow. Who'd have thought it?

Batman, Mystique, Hawkeye, Lois Lane.. and introducing Bradley Cooper as 'Pubehead'..
I mention all of this because it seems that hair is the key to understanding the film American Hustle or to give it its original and far superior title... American Bullshit. Taking place in the late 70's and early 80's, the movie tells the story of a fat balding con-man played by Christian Bale who, along with his partner Amy Adams, is forced into becoming a mole for the FBI. In fact there's a good few scenes near the start where those two get to know each other by having fun and dicking about which is kind of like the shittest Justice League movie you could possibly imagine! This film is directed by David O'Russell who, some people will remember as the director of Three Kings, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook and who others won't remember as the director of I Heart Huckabees. In case none of that rings any bells though then he's also the guy that got into a proper tussle with George Clooney on one set and was filmed losing his shit with Lily Tomlin on another. In regards to the Lily Tomlin one I suggest you check it out on YouTube if you haven't already just to see how blindly mad one human can possibly get... also it's fucking hilarious to see him storming in and out of various set doors as though it's a chase scene in a Scooby Doo cartoon whilst the elderly actress that he's screaming at remains fairly chilled out. If we're going back to Jung's theory of personas then it seems David O'Russell has worked pretty hard at presenting himself to the world as a massive angry twat.

Anyway I said that hair was the key to understanding this film and it is, with each character sporting head pubes so awful that the shamed barber responsible should be forced to fall on his scissors. Christian Bale has gone for the classic look of having a bald head on top but with long hair around the sides to comb over after hiding the naked scalp below a scraggily glued on merkin. However despite being proper ridiculous, it really just serves to show us who the character is as the film opens with a long sequence in which Bale lovingly and meticulously crafts it from scratch. It's hard to create but shows that he's a man who'll put in the time and patience for just a little dignity. It also shows a more human side to him as we see a misjudged attempt at hiding vulnerability by accidentally drawing attention to it. His hair really has its cake and eats it by partly helping to endear him to us but also getting laughs out of how much of a knob it makes him look. This is true of pretty much everybody else too with Bradley Cooper’s tightly wound perm being representative of his tightly wound and slightly manic personality. I suppose that for both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence who are both kind of fighting for Bale’s attention... well, their hair is like a peacocks feathers getting bigger and bigger as one tries to intimidate the other whilst keeping the eye of their mate on them. As well as these world class actors, the comedian Louis CK turns up as a fat, balding man with a ginger goatee... Amazing how chameleonic some people can be.

However not only does the hair tell you about the characters, it is so over the top and eye-catching that it draws your attention to just how fucking superficial everything is. Like any movie about money that's set near the end of the 70's and definitely the 80's, American Hustle also shows off the excess of those slightly tacky decades. For anybody who flashed their cash, films like this, Wall Street and American Psycho revel in their depiction of double crossing arseholes who hide their two faces behind either shoulder pads and beehives or pinstripe suits and offensively un-erotic porno tache's. This superficial streak is only emphasised by the films plot which is about a group of people who make a living from conning people into believing that they're people that they're not. I've never used the word 'people' more in my life than that previous sentence. Considering this was during crime’s tutorial decades where there was no internet to quickly Google for bullshit, assuming false identities was simply a case of coming up with a character, dressing up and again... presenting the correct persona. For the sake of this blog alone, I am so fucking glad that I read that shit by Jung.  

"It smells funny.. Like my fingers are here to fucking amuse you?"
However this idea of presenting a false persona through superficial details not only exists within the plot of American Hustle but actually within the DNA of the movie itself. The film has long swooping camera movements, cool edits, a heavy reliance on voice-overs and a great soundtrack. It also examines both morally grey characters, the corruption of the American Dream and also puts more emphasis on people's relationships than the actual plot. Just short of shagging Liza Minnelli, doing too much cocaine and almost dying of asthma, American Hustle seems desperate to convince us all that it is the work of Martin Scorsese. On top of that, there's a scene here that seems to take place in the same restaurant as the Goodfellas, 'Funny how? scene' and a fight between Bale and Lawrence that to anybody with blurred vision is kind of like the fight between De Niro and Sharon Stone in Casino. In fact the only thing it lacked to make it feel completely like a Scorsese film is the appearance of De Niro as a violent Mobster and then bam! About half way in.. Spoiler Alert... De Niro shows up as a violent mobster.

However, rather than feel like a Scorsese rip-off the film gets away with it because firstly, the whole thing is about depicting fake identities through surface details and secondly, it's just so much damn fun. Although at the very worst it did make me desperate to catch up with The Wolf of Wall Street. I can say with some certainty that so far this is definitely my favourite film of 2014 which is only partly down to the fact that it's the only one I've seen so far. However, even if that wasn't the case there's surely no way that anybody couldn't enjoy the scene where Lawrence is going apeshit to the song Live and Let Die and dancing like a pisshead with a power cable up her arse. To conclude, if you've not seen American Hustle then I recommend you go and check it out because it's funnier than most comedies and features great performances from everybody... Particularly Amy Adams who seems to be playing three characters at once- she's an English woman, an American Woman and a woman who can't decide if she's the English or American one. I'm not sure what Jung would say about the persona she puts out considering she's confused by it herself although I might have to read on and find out. In fact I only read the book once and there's a good chance that I might have gotten all this persona bullshit wrong. I'm pretty sure I haven't but... fuck.. I'll go re-read it. Hope you enjoy and see you next week motherfuckers!

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