Friday, January 14, 2011

The Fighter ***½

Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
Jack McGee, Mickey O'Keefe

If Rocky had been co-directed by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, it would've looked something like The Fighter. The energetic film, based on the life of welterweight fighter "Irish" Micky Ward (Wahlberg), borrows heavily from the cinematic style of those auteurs while preserving the dark humor that has characterized David O Russell's filmography.
The film concentrates on the rise to fame of Micky, who had to overcome the shadow cast by his oldest brother and trainer Dicky Eklund (Bale), a former boxer who succumbed to crack addiction.
The Fighter follows an established formula (does life come in formulas or are they heightened for dramatic purposes?) as Micky realizes the only chance he has of becoming "someone" is getting past his, well...past.
He falls for bartender Charlene (Adams), who helps him see things from a new perspective and slowly helps him to cut loose from Dicky's unhealthy drag as well as his mother7manager Alice's (Leo) excessive power over him.
What makes this film seem exciting in a way, is its screenplay, which more than delivering inspirational conventions, actually creates characters worth watching. This, combined with the dazzling performances delivered by the cast makes for a real treat.
Wahlberg, once again completely underrated (not only by other characters but by the script) moves through the film like an accessory. We mostly see him through others and in the film's centerpiece he literally has to solve his life in a boxing ring.
However beyond the huge biceps and quiet gracefulness lies a man with a harsh inner struggle. It's rare for movies to suggest families can have any sort of bad influence over people (heck, they are even romanticized in The Godfather!) which is why here it comes as surprise to see that even for a minute Wahlberg's character has to cope with choosing between family and self. It's probably not easy and the actor makes it seem like the most natural thing ever.
Bale once more recurs to his chamaleonic abilities and transforms into Dicky. The actor carries over his aggressive charm and makes this man someone who's both intensely attractive and unintentionally dangerous. His scenes with Wahlberg are amazing, as they have created a chemistry that makes us understand the bond that exists between them.
When Dicky finally realizes he might be hurting his younger brother, he doesn't do it with an intense action, he simply turns his back on him and walks away, as if telling him it's alright to move on.
The brothers' different personalities are expressed by Russell beautifully using cinema. Through most of the film we see HBO cameras following Dicky around as they make a documentary about him, on the other side we see that Micky takes Charlene to see a movie he doesn't particularly have any interest in for their first date.
Therefore while Dicky thinks he's made to be in movies, Micky uses them to hide, thinking perhaps they're more powerful than him.
The movie he sees is Belle Epoque (which he pronounces "belly epocue") and in this scene we see Amy Adams shine in completely unexpected ways. Playing a character unlike anyone we've seen her play before the actress achieves new heights and delivers a truly scene stealing performance.
She makes Charlene someone who may not have the class but certainly has the attitude. A conflicted bartender who dropped out of college, it's refreshing to see her find a new chance at happiness by being in love.
The actress delivers her lines with a defying mix of insecurity and bitchiness which makes her all the more fascinating to watch.
Leo is also terrific as the possessive mother. She expresses love for her kids in the only way she can: by making them feel still attached to her. Her Medea-like qualities are hilariously heightened by Russell through the use of her seven daughters who follow her around like a bitter Greek choir full of spinsters. When they confront Charlene in one scene their collective utterance of "skank" is brilliant.
It's ironic perhaps that the actual fight scenes in the movie don't hold a candle to the more intimate moments outside the gyms and auditoriums.
While the fighting sequences are done with superb technical mastery, the humanity felt outside the ring is what makes The Fighter feel like a champ.


Simon said...

The actual fight scenes never live up to the porch scene between Charlene and the sisters. Those magnificent bitches.

Anonymous said...

Woody Allen? I never thought to make a connection, but the raw, esoteric humour is there. And yes, Charlene is the baddest, fiercest character in the film.

Lucas Dantas said...

what does "bale lingers between"?

Castor said...

Glad you enjoyed this Jose! Definitely a movie that surprised me because I expected it to be about an underdog story about an over-the-hill boxer but it ended up focusing on the relationships around him instead.

Jose said...

Simon: couldn't have said it better, they are magnificent bitches indeed!

Paolo: well yes, this movie reminded me of "Husbands and Wives" a lot.

Lucas: typo!

Castor. Me too! I don't like boxing movie usually but this one was fun!