Hello, lovelies. Beau here, gone for far too long, with something that I've been racking my brain over for the better part of two months.
Much has already been said about American Hustle, on this site and throughout the internet in general, and the film has taken on a kind of love-it-or-hate-it reputation that makes it seem even more controversial than Scorsese's touted lightning rod, The Wolf of Wall Street. Whereas that film is richly deserving of its many dissenting opinions, the criticisms being levied at Hustle tend to direct themselves at its lightness, so to speak. A puff pastry strutting about in sequins. Indeed, the general consensus for a long period of time was that the film was too light to be considered a threat for the Oscar for Best Picture. Its themes of survival are dwarfed by Gravity, a film where said theme is made literal and considerable. Themes of deception are dwarfed by the hedonists of Wolf of Wall Street. Jennifer Lawrence's show-stopping performance in particular has become a source of contention, with mentions of miscasting, ageism, an inconsistent accent all to blame.
And while I have my own reservations about the film, there has been one particular element of the picture that's been thrashing about in my head, one performance that I can't seem to lay my finger on entirely. It evades me, like a crook whose face I know and can identify, but who always seems just out of my grasp. [More...]
Amy Adams has been in the spotlight for nearly ten years now. In that time, she's accumulated five Oscar nominations, eclipsing Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, and Michelle Pheiffer. She's ridden the wave of stardom with relative ease: promising ingenue (Catch Me if You Can), breakthrough talent (Junebug), charistmatic starlet (Enchanted), ensemblist (Doubt), romantic leading lady (Leap Year), then changing her career trajectory at just the right time with The Fighter, The Master, American Hustle, all the while landing her first tepid franchise with Man of Steel while still twiddling her big-eyed innocent persona through her fingers in The Muppets. Her theiving heart in American Hustle is most appropriate then, if we're to consider her varied career playing different variables.
After my first viewing of Hustle, of its central quintet, Adams' performance was the one that impressed the least. Lawrence, for all the aforementioned criticims levied at her, has a magnificent emotional availability in the picture that, in my humble opinion, manages to supercede any qualms about her accent or her age. She is thrown a Leaning Tower of Pisa of a character, and instead of setting her upright, takes the bolder choice and enters her into a game of Limbo. How far can you veer off-kilter without losing your center? And in turn for doing this, she's rewarded by allowing us a glimpse at this fully-rounded, flamboyant Cassandra, who has nothing to lose but everything to gain. Lawrence has chained herself to a two-ton anvil composed of blue flames and committed truth, but just because Rosalyn can't escape, doesn't mean she's not gonna dance the Flamenco in the interim. It is a breathtaking performance.
You're too much.'
Cooper's energy and Bale's play are both remarkable in the picture, as is Renner's unheralded no-nonsense soulfulness. But Adams struck me as the one false note in the ensemble, the player whose finger missed the pulse of the picture. The beat was off. One trait I take note of in actors while they're performing, if their choices are unclear to me or waver, is a flicker of the eye. Doubt clouding the character or actor if they're uneasy with their choices or are trying too hard to push an emotino? I see this with Adams from time to time, and it was readily apparent in the first ten seconds of our meeting her in the picture.
Adams has gone on record several times, the latest of which during her interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, of saying that Sydney was 'the saddest character' she's ever played. When the work was done, Sydney had to go. But the caper element of American Hustle lends the picture its lightness, so that even in dire, drastic situations, we're constantly reminded of the film's decision to acknowledge the delightful absurdity of it all. Adams, however, never really taps into that vein.
But then recently, I find myself reconsidering her work in the picture. There is something to be said of an actor who recognizes his or her position in a story, (one of my favorite footnotes is Hathaway asking Ang Lee during production on Brokeback Mountain what color he'd like her to be in his painting that day), and a vision of said story. But what is infinitely frustrating about what Adams does in Hustle is that the work itself is almost beyond reproach. It is all in service of a character performing, and performing badly, who has committed so fully to an idea of a person who lacks any foundation beyond her self-appointed stature, that she's forgotten along the way to color her with different crayons than the ones she currently holds.
Consider the wavering accent and its inconsistent timing; while awaiting the arrival of Sheikh Abdullah, Bale's Irving makes a last ditch effort to win back Sydney's trust. Replying in character, Syndey has placed a considerable gap between who she was, but also remains at a sizable distance from who she'll ultimately never be, leaving her in an emotional purgatory for which she remains through the bulk of the film. Her line, 'You're nothing to me until you're everything.', leaves the suggestion that she'll make the trek back to him, but that the cost of abandoning that possibility of happiness that Lady Edith could promise is only worthwhile if there's something substantial enough to replace it on the other side.
In creating such a character with the hopes of ultimately committing herself over to it fully, Adams' Sydney views Lady Edith with such reverence and humility that you could almost envision her bowing at dawn to her shrine. But the extension that serves as bridge between the two women is a rickety one, a structure unsound built of false hopes and lost dreams. Sydney is an O.G. Disco Diva, who lacks at her core the self-sustaining capabilities that fuel the women of her day and the women of our own. Beyonce recognizes Sasha Fierce as an extension. Mariah Carey acknowledges Mimi as her elevated self. But Sydney's ultimate undoing is in her failure to correct her own Leaning Tower of Pisa. You cannot build on rotten wood.
Adams' performance then, is all the more evasive in that it is one lost in an enigma wrapped in a shawl donning a Burger King crown. It doesn't keep pace with its contemporaries as they scatter about freely; it strides waveringly, like a three-year old trying on her mother's Jimmy Choos for the first time.
You got the looks, but you don't have the touch.
But maybe that was the point all along. It's a flicker of the eye that may have undone me with Amy Adams; It might be a better performance than I'll ever know.