The Morning After: Dec. 30, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Seven Days in May

John Frankenheimer is easily one of the greatest directors of political thrillers ever to have worked in Hollywood. 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate is his best film, but his 1964 follow-up, Seven Days in May is just as riveting, and almost as well acted.

A conscientious colonel (Kirk Douglas) puts pieces together of a potential plot to overthrow the government of unpopular President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) after he signs a nuclear nonproliferation agreement with the Soviet Union. General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster) believes its a mistake and that Russia will launch an attack while the United States is weak. In an elaborate plot, Gen. Scott has quietly built a formidable opposition and is so sure of his convictions that executing against the rule of law of the Constitution is crucial.

March delivers the film’s best performance by a mile, Pres. Lyman may be flawed, but his conviction, determination and desire for peace resonates well. At first, the film seemed like an indictment of the peace process and might have been intended to stoke interest in the anti-Communism movement, but March’s strength of character supported by the dastardly assassination plot only embolden the notion that Frankenheimer and his cast are more interested in promoting peaceful solutions than war posturing.

Douglas does solid work and Lancaster evokes memories of Elmer Gantry in his performance, but they are among a fine, talented cast of actors giving fine performances. Edmond O’Brien, Martin Balsam, Andrew Duggan, Hugh Marlowe and Whit Bissell all excel as do many others. I wasn’t impressed by Ava Gardner in the film’s sole major female role, but she works well enough within the framework of the film that she isn’t distracting.

American Hustle

When actors are having fun, the audience has fun. With American Hustle, the audience is given the most creative and colorful personalities to celebrate as they hustle their way through corruption, lies, deception and law enforcement.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play two bootstrap-lifted con men who fleece desperate men out of filing fees to obtain profitable loans from British companies. They also deal in fake art on the side. When an ambitious FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) nabs them in a scam, he forces them to work with him to uncover corruption in the Atlantic City re-building effort being organized by a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). Complicating matters are Bale’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence), a play-it-safe FBI director (Louis C.K.) and a plot that ultimately pulls in a powerful mafia family from Florida.

Set in the 1970’s, it’s no surprise that director David O. Russell mines that era’s style in both fashion and filmmaking to pepper his film with witty and subversive references to the great heist/con/mafia films of that era. While homage isn’t the only thing on his mind, Russell excels at copying that era. The performances are all good, but Lawrence absolutely steals the show as Bale’s confident, but dim-witted wife. She creates the most fascinating character in the film and gives far less of the screen time than she deserves. When the entire scheme begins to unravel, she keeps things connected with emotion and humor.

It’s the kind of movie that you enjoy watching from a historical perspective. The comedy is fun, though sometimes a bit overdeveloped. The film also climaxes in a bizarre moment that leaves you disappointed from at least one of the characters and never quite recaptures the magic once the reveal is made. Until those final moments, the movie aimed high and hit high. In the end, it succumbed to tidiness that belied the chaos that came before it. The reveal didn’t quite leave questions unanswered, but it did clatter to a halt.

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