It’s taken me a while to warm to David O Russell. I was pretty indifferent to his first two films (Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster), and while I loved the first half of Three Kings I was left in another fog over I Heart Huckabees, feeling as though I wasn’t clever enough to get what he was doing. Reports of his on set behaviour on those last two films didn’t help matters either.

But in the six-year gap between Huckabees and The Fighter, during which an intriguing project called Nailed was partly filmed with a pretty major cast but never completed and eventually abandoned, Russell seemed to get his shit together both artistically and personally, and he’s now teetering on the A-list as a writer/director, both critically and commercially successful, and actors even want to work him more than once.

I was a very big fan of both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, with Russell’s direction of both really assured and tonally perfect, and his writing in the latter commendably fair to its characters and encouragingly enlightened as far as the representation of mental illness in Hollywood movies goes. I’m far from alone in that admiration though, so it’s no surprise to have seen him assemble a pretty stellar cast for his latest film – more or less a who’s who of recently-established talent.

Peppering his film with such a great swathe of actors helps carry it at times, too. While the writing (by Russell and Eric Warren Singer) does a terrific job of evoking a very specific time and place, the actually plotting is stretched quite thin – no bad thing when you have such a skilled ensemble seemingly improvising much of their work and letting their carefully-honed characters bounce off each other. Christian Bale does some fine, meticulous work with another transformative performance here, Amy Adams continues to be excellent in pretty much everything she does and Bradley Cooper just about manages to steal the most scenes.

The real standout though is Jennifer Lawrence, whose brief career so far is an almost ridiculous example of great choices and consistently excellent work. In a short space of a few years, Lawrence has gone from an unknown young actor to a position of being able to juggle artistically credible prestige projects like Winter’s Bone and Silver Linings Playbook with massive crowd-pleasing blockbusters like the X-Men and Hunger Games franchises. And when she shows such range and bold choices as she does here, it’s hard not to do anything but applaud such success.

There’s been some criticism for the way Russell has mimicked the style of his contemporaries with this film, though I’m not sure that taking influence from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino could ever really be a bad thing. Russell has always been something of a magpie, and that’s to his credit – while The Fighter smoothly adopted a sports documentary style, and Silver Linings Playbook took a leaf out of more naturalistic domestic dramas, this is a masterclass in in using a film’s technique to reflect the era and tone of the film itself.

Filters are in frequent use, fake fog is deployed whenever the characters can walk through it and the much-discussed hair and makeup choices are cranked up to the point of caricature. Which is rather the point, when you’re making a film mired in the material excess of 1970’s crime exploitation. In fact, it’s pretty hard not to argue that he’s doing pretty much exactly what a director is supposed to do.

Blatant but Understandable Imitation7
Jennifer Lawrence9
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • Technically passes, but the two female characters only talk in one scene, and it's 90% about men
7Overall Score

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