Monday, May 20Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Film Reviews: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ and ‘American Hustle’

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I do not like fantasy films… There, I said it. Then why am I reviewing this film, you ask? Regardless of my tastes, I know a good film when I see one. The original trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, was stunning, and deserved its colossal Oscar haul. The plot, for me, was the key: Peter Jackson took a fantasy story, and made it entertaining for everyone; not only was there quality in the script, but also in the acting and the direction of photography. What most people were wondering was whether Jackson could repeat those same feats. The first instalment in the Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, was a good start, introducing us effectively to this prequel world and its characters. The Desolation of Smaug, however, had to up the ante.

We find the characters continuing from where we left off – after escaping Azog at the end of the last film, the dwarves finally reach the Lonely Mountain, with the orc hot on their tail. For fans of the series, the highlight will undoubtedly be the return of Orlando Bloom’s popular portrayal of Legolas, and he unquestionably brings some much needed X-factor. Martin Freeman was a delightful bit of comedic fresh air – and certainly a wonderful bit of casting – as hobbit Bilbo. Same goes for Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman, who is undoubtedly one to watch for the future, putting in a formidable performance. More positives for the cinematography – the beautifully eye-catching ‘High Frame Rate’ being, in my opinion, superb – it gives crisp, sharp footage, and portrays Middle Earth majestically; and (a little spoiler here) the CGI for Smaug is something special.

Obviously, some negatives arise, but one in particular: the length of the film. I cannot see how you can justify nearly 3 hours for such a slender book – I know fans want to see as much of it as they can, but a film needs to be consistently enjoyable – much more editing was needed. An improvement from the first instalment without question, but I believe there is more to come from the final instalment. Did it up the ante? Yes, just about, but the final showdown always brings home the prize.

American Hustle

It is fair to say that David O. Russell is on a bit of a roll. An always highly respected, if controversial, director within Hollywood, he started his run of form with the wonderfully simple The Fighter. It was a story we have seen before, but Russell did a simple thing to make this unique. While most revolve around the action in the ring, this was based on the real-life fights between friends, lovers, mothers and (arguably most importantly, given Bale’s stand-out performance) brothers. He took a tried and tested story and focused it on the characters, giving the actors room to put in stunning performances. Next, Silver Linings Playbook, which again was a simple rom-com at heart. Everyman character has a crisis after a relationship ends, struggles to put his life back together, then meets a kooky girl who helps him enjoy life, a basic storyline so overdone it evokes universal derision. However, Russell again did a simple trick to lift it from the pack, focusing on the characters and allowing the actors the room to put in stunning performances. That, as well as adding a more serious element of mental health to the story (a trick which should be applauded for starting a dialogue on often stigmatised issues), turned the story into something truly wonderful, gaining much award attention. Hoping his form continues, Russell this time has taken on the tried and tested story of con men trying to out-do each other with manipulation and cons of escalating complexity. American Hustle, though wonderful, doesn’t quite reach the high standards of Russell’s previous two films.

Once again, Russell has based this story on character, and once again this has allowed his actors to show off their wonderful abilities, including Bale and Adams from The Fighter, Cooper and Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook, and adding the likes of Jeremy Renner. It is top notch acting all round, with multiple award nominations much deserved. Bale holds the film together in another physically draining performance which allegedly permanently took inches off his height, bringing emotion and pathos into the con man genre which sometimes is missing. Adams and Lawrence excel in their roles, especially Lawrence, who holds her own against an experienced cast and matches Adams step for step in highly sexualised manipulation. It is easy to forget how much younger Lawrence is, and easy to underestimate just what an achievement it is to hold your own alongside Amy Adams. Both play vulnerability hidden behind strength and manipulation, a tricky task which both complete stunningly.

However, it has to be pointed out that the con man caper differs greatly from the boxing film and the rom-com genres, in that it is usually much colder and emotionless. For the audience to stay with the characters while they commit crimes, con films tend to be about being cool and exciting, rather than based within emotion. Boxing films and rom-coms revolve around emotion, therefore perfect for Russell’s focus on character. This leads to an issue in American Hustle where, for all the great acting, the film just doesn’t grab the audience enough emotionally. Bale and Renner do well to create a believable emotional bond; however this isn’t prevalent enough throughout the movie. We struggle to care for the relationships between the men and women in the film given just how manipulative their love seems to be. After second guessing whether Adams really loves Cooper or is she manipulating him and whether Bale really loves Adams or is he manipulating her, ultimately we don’t care. There’s a reason that con films often use so much action and style, because if they try to make to care about the story emotionally, they are going to fall flat; American Hustle does.

It’s certainly an entertaining film, and as an example of acting and film-making it is really top drawer. However, to make characters drive the con man film a genre too far for Russell. He is still a film-maker on form, but American Hustle doesn’t quite live up to The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.

First Article: Harry Crawford

Second Article: Thomas McDonald

Photographs: (Main); (Featured).