Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Fighter

2010. Dir: David O. Russell. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and Mickey O'Keefe. ●●●○○

Everywhere I looked in late January there were posters advertising David O. Russell's The Fighter with the strangely unambitious critical quote "The best boxing film since Rocky". It's not, far from it, but like Stallone's breakout it shares the same metaphorical use of pugilism. Rocky is at it's core a working-class love story with a boxer, The Fighter is a working class family drama with a boxer.

Showing the fall and rise of light Welterweight "Irish" Mickey Ward and his crack addicted brother Dicky Eklund (Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale respectively) the film focuses on the family dynamics between the brothers, the rest of the family - led by over-bearing mother Melissa Leo - and the more sedate influences on Mickey's life in his cop-turned trainer Mickey O'Keefe (here played by himself) and girlfriend Amy Adams.

I won't deal with too much detail of the plot, not least because as it's a biopic the whole story is largely in the public domain including the influential crack documentary about Dicky's fall from grace. Indeed the biopic structure seems awfully forced in this movie, the happy endings seem contrived even though we know that's what really happened. It's a strange feeling where reality doesn't feel real. The attention to detail even extends to the boxing scenes which were filmed in the same way the original games were shown on TV even hiring the same commentators to read over their, at the time, improvised discussion of the action unfolding. This deliberately removes the viewer from the ringside we're used to in boxing movies and back into our armchairs however it also removes the tension from the fight. I rewatched Champion and Cinderella Man in recent weeks to prepare and both had more exciting boxing even if neither seemed realistic.

The performances from the main cast are exemplary. Wahlberg and Bale play introvert and extrovert brothers perfectly, one being the yin to the other's yang, with each performance only working because of the alternative extreme of the other. It's the kind of sibling pairing we often see in real life but rarely in the movies. Don't be fooled by Bale forthcoming supporting actor Oscar his is a co-lead performance and the battles he faces are as central to the plot as Wahlberg sporting encounters.

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams add some needed character to the underwritten female roles the former especially transcending the material conveying so much with a sidewards look or a hand on the hip. On a side note the level of misogyny in this movie is shocking with every woman being presented as manipulative, cold or stupid.

The technical work is fine with some excellent make-up work being done and quality set decoration but a cliche ridden script (the scene where Wahlberg says he wants everyone to get along is particularly risible) and pedestrian direction doesn't help.

I really wanted to like this movie going in but performances aside it's the least effective of the best film nominees I've seen so far.


Alex in Movieland said...

oh, I liked it :) not as much as other, but I liked it.

maybe we'll get to talk about it, if we even do that chat. :D

TomS said...

Interesting review, Ben. I liked the film well enough, better than I expected to, actually; and felt it was a perfect film for a Saturday afternoon, but not really an award "contender".

I remember thinking it looked a modern-day "Rocky" when I saw the trailers.

I, too, noticed the buffoonery of the sisters...

(Note: I will have to watch A Beautiful Mind again....I do remember Russell Crowe as a boxer in Cinderella Man...)

Runs Like A Gay said...

Great idea Alex - although we're getting closer to that offline.

Thanks for spotting my horrendous error Tom, yes I meant Cinderella Man they're next to each other on my shelf and when I'm in the flow I sometimes type without really thinking.

I just came away thinking The Fighter was awfully OK, can't see what all the fuss has been about.