A character drama with a twisted sense of humor Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat (Bradley Cooper) a recently released psychiatric hospital patient who moves back in with his parents and begins a quest to reclaim his broken marriage. Despite the warnings from doctors Pat's mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and dad Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) take him in hoping familiar settings and a little Eagles football may be the perfect cure. It isn't — Pat continuously loses his s**t over his ex-wife Nikki frantically stressing over her high school English class' reading syllabus (he toss Hemmingway's A Farewell to Arms straight through a glass window) and breaking down every time he hears their wedding song. There's no hope for him and Nikki — catching her with another man and beating him to a pulp led to his institutionalizing — but Pat's focused mind doesn't let him deviate.
After being invited to a friend's house for dinner Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who sees a friendship in the bipolar patient. After the death of her husband Tiffany went off the deep end engaging anyone and everyone for sex. She's sees a companion in Pat and although he's reluctant the off-kilter pair can't fight the magnetic power of their psychological issues.
Most of their conversations end in screaming or blunt admissions — but they're relatable.
Mental illness and human connection may sound like an equation for eye-roll-worthy saccharine but director David O. Russell mines Cooper and Lawrence's comedic strengths to turn Silver Linings Playbook into one of the funniest movies of the year.
Nothing is off limits for Russell; one reoccurring joke is that Pat can't stop bringing up the fact that Tiffany's husband is dead. As Tiffany puts it to Pat, "You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things."
To make Pat aware of how his bipolar existence affects the people around him and to make us the audience feel for this heart-wrenching experience Russell shoots and paces Silver Linings Playbook for awkward comedy.
He also returns to the always-reliable family dynamic. The Fighter is to Boston as Silver Linings Playbook is to Philadelphia De Niro perfecting the Eagles-loving everyman with a collection of betting buddies who may be just as delusional as Pat.
The legendary actor proved he had comedy chops in Meet the Parents but here he blends it with gravitas that earned him a legacy in the first place. Rush Hour actor Chris Tucker also pops up as Pat's good friend from the institution. More restrained than ever Tucker helps add warmth to the picture. Pat has a support system everywhere he turns. In essence the film emanates with positive vibes.
Even with a great ensemble Silver Linings Playbook is Cooper and Lawrence's show. To the bitter end Pat and Tiffany never get sappy with one another always at each other's throats over the feelings they harbor and the pasts they can't shake away.
Cooper loses himself in the chaotic mind of Pat without ever slipping into a caricature of the mentally ill. He can stir up laughs with his desperate search for Pat's missing wedding video and then shock us in the blink of an eye when things turn violent.
Impressively Lawrence's Tiffany is never written down. She never succumbs to being a comforting presence always provoking Pat to push himself.
She's a strong woman but a strong woman juggling her own set of issues. Lawrence conveys all of that without missing a beat. That dynamic should be make Silver Linings Playbook the talk of the town come Oscar time.
The nautical heist thriller Contraband is a remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdam an Icelandic film from 2008 which admittedly I’ve yet to see. (It’s curiously difficult to find stateside.) Presumably there must have been something about it that was compelling enough to warrant the effort and expense of an American adaptation. Whatever it was it didn’t survive the no doubt complicated process of translating it into a proper Mark Wahlberg vehicle.
Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday once a legendary New Orleans smuggler but now happily law-abiding as a home-security contractor. The same however cannot be said of his punk brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) who runs illegal shipments for a tattooed hoodlum named Tim Riggs (Giovanni Ribisi). When Andy makes the unwise decision to dump his valuable narcotics cargo in advance of a Customs raid earning the dreaded pay-up-or-die ultimatum from his unsavory boss Chris tries in vain to intervene on his behalf only to be rudely rebuffed. Which leaves him with only one option to save Andy’s skin: One Last Job.
The director of Contraband Baltasar Kormakur actually starred in Reykjavik-Rotterdam – a piece of trivia which unfortunately proves far more interesting than anything found in his remake. It seems his familiarity with the material bred banality if not necessarily contempt. His approach is a kind of Bourne-lite: the shaky-cam is restrained enough to minimize audience headaches but the ultimate result is stultifyingly generic.
Essential to any successful Mark Wahlberg film from Boogie Nights to The Fighter has been to surround Wahlberg with more accomplished and versatile actors thereby allowing him to focus on his core competencies of scowling cursing and otherwise radiating his unique brand of low-watt charisma. Kormakur assembled capable-enough performers for Contraband only to saddle them with uniformly bland characters.
Having grown accustomed to Kate Beckinsale as the leather-clad heroine of the Underworld films I found it odd – and a bit disappointing – to see her reduced to the role of the protagonist’s fretful wife. Ribisi’s novel strategy for transcending his miscasting as a clichéd white-trash villain is to adopt a bizarre high-pitched accent presumably Southern in origin but unlike any Southern accent I’ve ever witnessed. Ben Foster plays Wahlberg’s best friend an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who seems doomed to relapse on both fronts if only because he’s being played by Ben Foster. Diego Luna J.K. Simmons Lukas Haas are underutilized in one-note roles.
I confess to be unfamiliar with the vagaries of illicit foreign-goods transport but I have to think it’s more exciting than what unfolds in Contraband. No one expects it to rival the glamour and of say casino robbery but Kormakur depicts smuggling with all the verve and panache of a tax audit. The film’s lone fireworks occur on land during a stop-off in Panama City when Wahlberg’s character is forced by the local crime boss (Luna) in an armored-car hold-up. A heist-within-a-heist if you will. But soon it’s back on the boat where the momentum ceases and the movie sinks.
In certain respects David O. Russell’s boxing drama The Fighter is a sports movie masquerading as an Oscar grab. It bears many of the hallmarks of awards ponies that are often trotted out this time of year: It’s set in a working-class town (Lowell Massachusetts) in the midst of demographic upheaval; one of its lead actors Christian Bale put his health at risk so that he might realistically portray the corrosive effects of crack addiction; its director took great care to stock it with an abundance of auteurist flourishes; its poster is suitably understated; and its initial theatrical release is extremely limited (only four cities). But underneath The Fighter’s prospecting facade beats the heart of a determined crowd-pleaser -- a triumphant underdog tale of an aging boxer who overcame long odds to reach the pinnacle of his sport -- that cannot be suppressed.
The structure of The Fighter which is based on the true story of doormat-turned-champion “Irish” Micky Ward reflects its director’s conflicting impulses. The film is roughly divided into two parts the first of which is fashioned almost purely as a showcase for Bale who portrays Ward’s half-brother Dicky Eklund a once-promising welterweight who long ago squandered his talent on a drug habit that none of his family members seem willing to acknowledge.
Balding emaciated and nearly toothless Dicky bristles with boundless (and no doubt chemically enhanced) energy strutting through town and boasting incessantly of his exploits -- his 1978 knockdown of Sugar Ray Leonard in particular -- in a voice made raspy by (presumably) vocal chords repeatedly singed by crack smoke. Though officially Micky’s trainer he seems less concerned with his brother’s fight preparation than with promoting his own supposed “comeback ” which he claims an HBO Films crew has been sent to chronicle. In truth they’re making a documentary on crack addiction but Dicky’s delusion is so profound -- and so impervious to reality -- that he fails to recognize it.
Russell is clearly enamored with Bale’s performance -- he all but emblazons the words “For Your Consideration” at the top of the screen during the actor’s scenes -- and as a result he grants his actor too long of a leash. Bale dominates every frame in which he appears but sometimes he overreaches and his scene-stealing antics occasionally verge on clownish. (In a pre-emptive strike against those who might dismiss the performance as a prolonged exercise in scenery chewing Russell includes a documentary clip of the real-life brothers during the film’s closing credits and true to Bale’s portrayal Dicky is an unrepentant attention hound.)
Dicky’s losing battle with crack culminates in a harebrained money-raising scheme hatched straight out of the Tyrone Biggums playbook for which he earns a lengthy penitentiary stay. But just as we begin to suspect The Fighter might morph into a gritty addiction memoir the narrative shifts its focus to Micky who after suffering quietly for years under the misguided tutelage of his junkie brother and their domineering mother/manager Alice (Melissa Leo) finally starts to assert himself. With the help of his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) a bulldog with a tramp stamp whose foul mouth and stiff upper lip provide the perfect antidote to the machinations of Micky’s mother and seven (!) catty sisters his own (genuine) comeback finally gains momentum.
So does the film. Because of its triumphant second half -- during which Micky ascends through the welterweight ranks in a series of brutal slugfests and eventually upsets a much younger Shea Neary to win his first title -- The Fighter will likely be branded hokey by some but that’s hardly the director’s fault. The story all but demands it. For the most part Russell steers clear of the sentimental tropes seen in films like Cinderella Man and the Rocky saga and he documents every pummeling Micky receives with gruesome buzz-killing detail. But the story’s feel-good aspects like Micky are astoundingly resilient and in the end Russell has no choice but to yield to them.