Blue is the Warmest Color (4.75/5):
Discovering your first love is at once jubilant and painful. Unearthing a human being you can share your most intimate moments with is intoxicating, but knowing how love and life work, we know deep down that it’s a fleeting happiness. Nonetheless, we carry on, convincing ourselves it will last forever, but the magic slowly dissipates, exposing us to abrasive life lessons. High school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) , a beautiful young woman smitten with literature, encounters the quixotic and disheartening power of first love in Blue is the Warmest Color. Adèle discovers her first love in a crowded street. Overrun with bodies walking about, miraculously Adèle’s eyes latch onto the passing gaze of a young woman with blue hair. The two share a fleeting moment, but it’s a deeply intimate one that forces Adèle to question her sexual identity. Adèle, feeling more and more distant from her female friends, initiates a relationship with a male classmate, but their romance ends abruptly when Adèle feels hollow in his presence. And then, on a random adventure into a lesbian bar, Adèle meets her blue haired wonder, Emma ( Léa Seydoux), prompting an emotionally bruising love affair spanning a handful of years. Over the course of three hours, director Abdellatif Kechiche guides us through Adèle’s evolution from a confused teenager into a woman fending off life’s crushing blows.
We invariably see Adèle’s growth through her relationship with Emma, which is exploding with passion, a passion that ultimately undermines their relationship. Keciche masterfully captures the beauty of a once unrequited love depressingly slipping away by unmasking the raging emotions of Adèle and Emma in explosive, emotionally dire scenes. Keciche pushes his actresses to the extreme, coercing them into sexually explicit and destructive scenes that feel as authentic as a documentary. The inevitable dissolution of Adèle and Emma’s love is even more powerful when we consider how Keciche delicately crafts their romantic birth with soulful, quiet discussions. By doing so, he establishes a relationship that’s equally based on intellect as it is attraction. Keciche may have crafted the film but he is forever indebted to power of his actresses. Both women are illuminating, as they share a palpable love that courses throughout the film’s run time. But Adèle Exarchopoulos is the film’s emotional core, providing us with an authentic look at a woman yearning for love and wallowing in it. Her face is elastic, covering an impressive spectrum of emotions with ease, and the growth she charts for her character is seismic. Much like the women at its center, Blue is the Warmest Color is vivacious and authentic, making its inspection of young love necessary.
American Hustle (3.75/5):
Survival is a word echoing throughout David O. Russell’s American Hustle. Predominantly muttered by fragile men and women hiding behind expensive facades, the notion of survival becomes a justification for conniving behavior and loathsome lies. Based partly on a real event in the 70’s, American Hustle introduces us to Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), an impeccably swift con man that sells forged paintings and empty loans behind the image of an honest businessman. By Irving’s side is his business partner and mistress, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams.), a ferocious woman that amplifies Irving’s backsliding by adding wrinkles to his cons. Irving and Sydney are smooth operators, but their relationship is weighed down by Irving’s marriage to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a destructive waif who uses her son as a bargaining chip to keep her flimsy marriage afloat. Regardless, Irving’s con game is running full steam ahead until FBI meathead Richard DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) intervenes, putting Irving and Sydney in a precarious position. In order to avoid charges and jail time, Irving and Sydney must help DiMaso in procuring four scam related arrests. But ambition seduces DiMaso, as he aims for seedy politicians. Camden, New Jersey mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), is one politician DiMaso hopes to entrap through Irving.
Allegiances crumble, identities fade, and everyone is a pawn, as a collection of con artists manipulate one another for singular gains. Watching the inevitable power struggle play out is fascinating, but there’s undeniably something missing from the film that keeps it from packing an actual punch. The style is certainly on point, with David O. Russell relying heavily on crash zooms and long, fluid takes, reminiscent of Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. For as glamorous as it is, the film’s panache doesn’t heighten the stakes anymore than it masks an uninvolved plot. Even more to the point, a few scandalous betrayals come across limp, making us wonder if we even have an ounce of allegiance for anyone. Admittedly, in spite of the film’s lack of resonance, it’s awfully entertaining. From rapid fire dialog to character’s masking their insecurities through the construction of their hair, American Hustle takes uproarious shots at a collection of people who are actively conning themselves. The actor’s performances also lend the film a multitude of laughs , but at the forefront is a surprisingly tender performance from Christian Bale. Most people believe Jennifer Lawrence’s performance makes the film, but I find Bale’s morally conflicted, lovelorn Irving to be the film’s most fascinating facet. In a maelstrom of caricatures, Bale’s Irving comes across as the one guy with the most to lose, and his story is often consumed by the film’s excessive style and breakneck pace. Ironically, American Hustle becomes exactly like the characters it mocks; convincing itself its comb-over is a pile of thick, ravishing hair.