Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Long Overdue Review: The Fighter

For all the ostensible theatrics of a man making a comeback and potentially forced dramatic plot-points that you know will end in a painful road to success, The Fighter is essentially a quite placid tale of prospective victory, and in the moment that can most easily be defined as a climax (tentatively used) Micky turns to everyone in the room and gives what’s potentially his most striking bit of dialogue – “I’m the one fighting; not you, not you and not you”. Even without the propensity for that to be regarded as a tongue-in-cheek delivery, I still chuckle at it because one of the striking things about The Fighter is how little Micky seems to be fighting. It’s not so much that his introverted personality doesn’t present him as a credible “fighter” but the way that Russell shoots those scenes (which in theory you’d expect to be important) is not very personal or  intrusive at all. Going on the belief that this is Micky’s “fight” one would expect the actual fights to be staged as such, which made The Fighter for me immediately reminiscent of Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man – an unfortunately ignored boxing drama that set itself up the same way as David O. Russell’s The Fighter – a familial drama with boxing undertones. The thing with Russell, though, is that he seems to flip-flop as to whether or not he’s content to make a family drama or a boxing film in disguise, or some eccentric amalgamation of the two.
And there’s more than just a little going on the family side of things. Micky’s career seems to be designed from the same mettle of his brother Dickey – former boxing would-be turned drug addict who may, or may not, have knocked over Sugar Ray Leonard how many years ago. You get the way that the unassuming Micky might have been cajoled into the business less out of a viable interest in the sport and more because of household inclinations. His officious mother plays his manager and his six sisters sit around the house doing nothing, if occasionally getting underfoot. You’re not even sure that he has a father until you notice Jack McGee’s George standing the backgrounds and you think – “Oh yes, someone had to give sperm to make him.” There’s already so much going on in Lowell that as docile as the first act lopes through it sets us up for a potential climax and conclusion complete with a barmaid love interest who’s simultaneously just as limited as Micky and his family (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and yet more ambitious. The thing is, Micky doesn’t seem like someone defined by his losses or defeats and Russell doesn’t even shoot the fights as especially pivotal so they sort of end up seeming like token set pieces framed in an apologetic way as if to imply that the necessary boxing piece must be included – just for the hell of it.
In the midst of the fighting I end up paying keener to attention to what goes on around the ring than what’s going on inside, as far as reacting to the realism of the fighting Melissa Leo manages to make Alice’s responses work more than anyone during these scenes. But, it’s not effusive praise from me because I’m constantly going back and forth as to what I think of her performance. I’m more immediately impressed by Amy Adams, not for the more obvious against-type performance she gives, but because Charlene in her quiet belligerence (almost paradoxical) emerges as the realest characters of the lot – she’s lucky because she gets to observe and participate in the dysfunctional tendencies surrounding everyone. Leo seems fond – too fond – of playing loud and garish in a way that makes for entertaining (stretching the meaning of that word) viewing but isn’t really substantial and in the larger picture makes the narrative just a little jarring; I sort of grit my teeth when she’s at her most bombastic because she seems more interested in delivery than authenticity. But, then she surprises me with some wonderfully astute decisions – the first of which, a beautiful moment opposite Christian Bale in a car is just thrilling to watch. It’s easily the strongest point in the film for both actors, and it’s a shame it comes so early – and is so short. It’s that sort of dissonance that gets to me because she ends up turning Alice into a bit of an anomaly which might be accurate but doesn’t make her character very lucid – which is, perhaps, not her fault but still annoying.
If the biggest compliment I play Adams is her realness, I’ll credit Bale for being the most natural of the performers. Even if I’m not wholly smitten with what he does he manages to make even the most overbearing and exaggerated of tics seem like facets of the character and not the actor and even in his obviousness he’s at his best when playing on the scale of a favoured son and idolised brother and not as a drug addict – in the same way that Wahlberg Micky is notable not for his boxing but for his introspection. Although there’s nothing definitively better about the third act than the first The Fighter feels like the type of experience that has to find its footing before it succeeds. It’s because the narrative is not about the plot, but about the characters and its only after prolonged exposure to them that we’re able to appreciate their value. The ending might feel a little too docile, but if you pay enough attention you’d notice that it’s the only way the thing could end. The victory is not in the ring, even though Russell seems like he wants to set it up as such he seems to have a change of heart at the end when he realises (and the audience, too) that even before Micky gets into the ring for that pivotal fight you get the feeling that he’s already on the road to success with a family that’s broken but still trying; which makes me think that Micky is wrong – he may be the only one in the ring, but they’re all fighters.


Simon said...

I couldn't stop noticing the dad, the actor, wht's-his-face, played him as such a great foil, like, even when in the midst of the rest of the family's smothering, Mickey would graduate towards him. Like Sisters in Sanity, except with dudes. And boxers. And glorious harems of Greek chorus sisters.

But, as always, that's besides the point.

Beautifully put on Amy Adams' character.

Brandon (Twister) said...

Seen this twice now, and it's really one of the best of the year.

But, keep an eye out for my upcoming review and we can talk more about the film.

Candice Frederick said...

i'll agree that this is really a fmaily drama at its core and to confuse it for something else would do it a severe misjustice. and i agree that bale is the most comfortable erformer here, leo in second place. adams doesn't seem comfortable in this role to me but i commend her for trying it.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I love love love this movie. Bale is best in show, definitely, and I'm sorry that Wahlberg's quieter performance isn't getting the attention it deserves. I have trouble choosing between Leo and Adams. I think they both find the right pitch for their charactersl I feel like Alice really *is* trying to just make an impression for the most part, hiding behind bluster so she doesn't have to see her family for what it is.

Castor said...

Glad you liked it! The performances make this movie go beyond its formulaic underdog story and I was agreeably surprised at how good of a movie this was when I didn't know what to expect.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

simon ha, the idea of the sisters as a greek chorus is a delicious idea. i like, i like.

brandon well, i'm looking forward to that review and conversation.

candice i wish russell would just have given all his time to focusing on it as a family drama instead of trying flip-flop between the boxing which his heart doesn't seem to be in, by the way he shoots it.

walter that's probably why i can't HATE leo here because i suppose the film is working against her, which makes me wonder why the screenplay is being rewarded here. the shining light of the film is the cast and to an extent what russell tries to do – succeeding more than failing.

castor yeah - it is a surprise, it really isn’t just an underdog story because it really is more of an ensemble.