There seem to be two sides to David O. Russell. On the one hand, there is a famous director who produces films that are fun and dynamic but with depth and substance, and who challenge societal stigmas around mental health, female autonomy, love and family. The originality has earned this Russell and his films multiple Oscar nominations and wins, and some might even say he’s a cinematic trailblazer.
On the other hand, the New Yorker’s name has often been shrouded in a cloud of controversy. Of allegations of abuse from various actors (including Amy Adams and Lily Tomlin) and supposedly putting Christopher Nolan in a headache, to reports of sexual assault, where the director himself confirmed that he touched his own niece in a way inappropriate. It is fair to assume that the american hustle the director is a difficult man to work with (just ask George Clooney) and whose on-set methods are not only difficult, but borderline abusive.
His supposed personal flaws aside, Russell has written and directed some excellent movies. Although his last film amsterdam received mixed to negative reviews, we thought we’d take a look at some of Russell’s best and try to clarify a few things.
amsterdam is David O. Russell’s latest version and, yes, it has been seriously criticized. It may be partly because of the immense hype behind amsterdam – the director’s first film in seven years, with a stellar ensemble cast and a much-anticipated build-up, the film fell short of expectations and proved somewhat divisive (and mostly hated) among the critics. The movie itself is a confusing puzzle that goes back and forth in time.
It tells the story of two World War I army veterans, Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) and Harold (John David Washington), who through various acts of misfortune end up with their partner Valerie (Margot Robbie ) as suspects in the midst of a double homicide investigation.
The three go on to uncover the perpetrators and the right-wing ideals they hope to instill in American politics.
Russell brought in a huge set of newcomers to his process (Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Shannon, Zoe Saldana, Mike Myers, Timothy Olyphant, Taylor Swift, Rami Malek, etc.) as well as Russell’s usual recruits Bale and Robert De Niro, all of whom put on dazzling displays. The huge (and hugely talented) cast, along with great attention to detail with its beautiful set design and costumes, certainly helps bring some semblance of logic to a convoluted storyline. Even if the viewer is confused or lost while watching the film, amsterdam is still a visual delight and a great showcase for some of today’s best actors.
5/6 spank the monkey
In his directorial debut in 1994 spank the monkey, David O. Russell delivers perhaps his most controversial screenplay to date. The film tells the story of a forbidden love, an incestuous relationship between a mother and her son. Apart from a great film (Louis Malle Whisper of the heart), Russell grapples with a topic that’s only ever really tackled in those semi-sleazy ’90s porn flicks on shoestring budgets.
With his father out of town on business, medical student Ray (Jeremy Davies) is forced to give up an exciting internship because his mother has broken her leg. Throughout the summer, Ray and his mother Susan (Alberta Watson) grow closer and closer until the unthinkable happens. An extremely uncomfortable and provocative comedy, spank the monkey announced Russell as a major new voice.
4/6 three kings
three kings thus walked the tastes of Jarhead and End of guard tour could run. The 1999 action-packed war film spawned the gritty, portable docufilm style seen in so many war movies and cops. After the conclusion of the Gulf War, American troops prepare to return home, but when they discover that they are literally sitting on a gold mine (in the form of a cache of gold a few miles from their military base), the soldiers decide to have an abortion. their impending departure mission and have set their sights on a ton of gold.
George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube star in this action flick which is both fully aware of how the US military can often be seen around the world as an anarchic, hot-headed and overpowered body, but which also demonstrates the reality of modernity. war, its impact on overseas communities and what the boredom of waiting can do in a busy (highly armed) military environment. three kings combines action and comedy to great effect, and with its razor-sharp script and charming performances, it’s one of Russell’s best.
3/6 Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is not your typical rom-com; instead, it’s a movie where its characters are both realistic and broken, and Russell throws you through the emotional buzz before he really lets you enjoy the ultimate feel of what you’re watching.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Russell’s new muse, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro, the film is a story of love and compassion through personal hardship, following Pat Solitano (Cooper), a sufferer bipolar disorder recently released from a psychiatric ward who is on a mission to reclaim his ex-wife. In the process, he meets Tiffany (Lawrence), who offers to help him in his quest in exchange for partnering with her in a local dance competition.
2/6 The fighter
Following the inspiring true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a fellow boxer from an underprivileged neighborhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, The fighter details Ward’s struggles to distance himself from the shadow of his older brother, Dickie Ecklund (Christian Bale), who, after being a noted boxer himself, falls into a life of drug addiction and petty crime.
The film navigates Ward’s rise to the top against all odds, and the synergy between Wahlberg and Bale keeps the film going effortlessly. The fighter is a classic case of a zero-to-hero sports movie and touts the sentiment that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
1/6 american hustle
Hairspray, brown flares, ultra-suede, cashmere, miniskirts, big gold-rimmed aviators and open-button shirts with huge collars – David O Russell’s american hustle had a better grasp of 1970s iconography than most recent films. It’s a bold, brash, and statement-making film. Two con men Irv (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams) are tricked into working for an undercover FBI agent in exchange for a reprieve for their fraudulent misdeeds. American Hustle is a blend of romance, crime, and drama, and has that pizzazz and vivacity that not only makes it a delightfully entertaining watch, but an aesthetic masterpiece as well.