Saturday 29 January 2011

Review: The Fighter

Year: 2010 (2011 U.K release)
Director: David O Russell
Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Mellisa Leo, Amy Adams

Synopsis is here

I'll be starting with some race stuff first. So if this sounds too Chuck D for your tastes, you may wish to  avoid the first part of this or so.

After the screening, I found myself wondering: In a sport dominated by (notable) Black champions; I found myself watching another Caucasian boxing movie. This isn't a really a gripe about The Fighter a such, merely an observation. Tyson had that T.V movie and an interesting (and quite conflicting) documentary, Cassius Clay has had a shedload of coverage (for obvious reasons) and I'm sure there may be few other lesser considered features. However, considering the drama that could be brought from many of these athletes (many more known than Micky Ward), I'm fascinated that we haven't seen more black boxing movies. Especially ones that could easily follow a similar rise and fall arc that The Fighter.

I was entertained (but not surprised) that I got home after the film to read Joe Queenan's interesting follow-up article to his Rocky Balboa piece mirrored and articulated my own musings. I was even more entertained by another article from The Montreal Gazette which noticed in depth that this years Oscars is pretty much an all white affair. It also highlighted the lack of agents and executives working top level within the media. Forgive me for the incoming cliche but considering "how far we've come", it's still quite telling that despite this alleged politically correctness gone mad nonsense , it's still easier for Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund to get a movie while Sugar Ray Leonard obtains a cameo. I'm surprised that someone like Sugar Ray Robinson considered the greatest by the greatest himself; Muhammad Ali, is presented as only a physical manifestation of the inner demons of Jake La Motta in Martin Scorsese masterful Raging Bull. But like I mentioned to my father, Will Smith can't play them all.   

Inner demons play a large part of David O Russell's solid feature The Fighter. Micky Ward's half brother Dickie (Bale) wears his fight with the aforementioned Sugar Ray Leonard so close to him that it seems to blight more than anything. So much of a heavy weight (pun not intended) is this fight, amongst other things seem to almost help push the pride of Lowell into the mind numbing highs of crack. This internal conflict with Dickie becomes an outer conflict with his brother Micky (Walhberg) whose boxing career is at a critical point. Seen as a stepping stone for better fighters, how can he progress when his trainer is not only an addict but his brother. Things become more complicated when we realize that Micky's mother (Melissa Leo) is also his manager. Pushing him into bum fights and isolating outside influence. Blood is of course thicker than water, however it's clearly obvious that here, it's beginning to clot and family ties are now pulled to breaking point.

O Russell's film works best in these scenes, they are tense, surprisingly funny and tug well emotionally. Many who come from a big family may know of that awkward position that certain members love to play. The idea that family is everything means nothing when it's obvious that control means more. The personal punches hit as hard as the body blows and O Russell captures paints the picture more vivid then I'd expected. The two  reasons I think this works are one: the enveloping gaggle of sisters that crowd around that patriarchal and dominant mother (an impressive Leo). They who watch constantly and chime in like Greek choir of sass. The second is of course the googly eyed, mesmerizing  performance by Christian Bale a man whose outside life and method tactics often obscure the fact that he is a damn fine actor. It's a showy display that feature knowing Oscar baiting moments but alot of that is due to the material more than anything else. Bale nails his scenes and I wouldn't be surprised if the bald gold man goes to him.

Bale and Leo are extremely effective in the role, but maybe a little too effective. You see for a film called The Fighter it's a little shocking that the actual fighter himself is so passive. Wahlberg has also been a topsy turvy actors for me and there's no change here. As opposed of imprinting himself on the scene, Wahlberg like in other films I've seen with himself, fades to the background. Like Boogie Nights, when sharper actors enter the screen Wahlberg seems to shadow them more than anything. Amy Adams however, shows that she can do the tough cookie role well enough to keep a viewer at attention.

As a whole the The Fighter is a uniformly directed piece with some nice visuals and neat touches. The decision to give the fights that TV style look as opposed to regular film is an effective touch, while the fight set pieces themselves are punchy (pun again not intended), with blows that hit hard. They are defiantly not Rocky 4 beat downs. But with all this said, the cogs are consistently turning in The Fighter. you can always nearly always tell what it's thinking. Where it's going and how you should feel. Wahlberg's Micky is a tad to bland to really get into as all the charisma is with his brother and I'm not surprised at the fact that the screenwriters also had a hand in films such as 8 Mile (Rocky but rap) and Air Bud (safe family pleasing affair). From the music ques to the moment we see Dickie going cold turkey there's a touch of the "oh ok"Aronofsky as executive producer, this does become an entertaining companion piece to The Wrestler. No fireworks but no pulled punches either.