Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Fighter

A film that has no control on tone and that has the attention span of the main characters watching Fernando Trueba's Oscar-winner "Belle Epoque" (read: none at all), "The Fighter" is an unsuccessful hybrid of different ideas, styles, and sensibilities. Why anyone thought David O. Russell, the filmmaker of "I Heart Huckabees," "Three Kings," and "Flirting With Disaster" should be associated with a sports film, much less a movie about boxing, is way beyond me. It's a miscalculation that plays out sloppily, as the film is wrongly tinged with Russell's quirky flourishes. At the same time, he overall gets rid of his previous directorial mindset, so that the film is a result of him being stuck between gears, when he should have gone one way or the other.

If you don't know the background of the making of this film, you may be a little hard pressed to explain the film's biggest mistake: the focus being put on Mickey Ward, not on his brother Dicky Eklund. The film, in its confused intentions, still covers Ward and Eklund on the same level, but it would be substantially better if it just looked at the unreliable, cocaine-addicted Dicky. Since Mark Wahlberg's persistence was apparently the reason "The Fighter" got made at all, it makes sense that he would put himself front and center and chose the character that a) he thought (fallaciously) was more intriguing or b) he looked more like to base the movie around. However, that hardly warrants the film, which, ultimately, was not really worth making, no matter who the lead was.

The beginning of the movie is a strange meta-film, as HBO documentarians come to Lowell, MA to ostensibly shoot the comeback of Eklund (Christian Bale), who is famed for supposedly knocking out Sugar Ray Robinson (when Robinson probably just tripped). In the periphery is Mickey, who is training to get some fights. There is no sense of how long Mickey has fought or anything like that, as that would just be pesky exposition. (No one but stuck-up cinephiles who like "Belle Epoque" needs that stuff.) We do know that he hasn't been in top form recently (he's collected notice as a "stepping stone"), and that he needs a nice and easy fight to regain footing. He has one slotted, but it turns out that the guy gets sick, someone else steps in, and Mickey gets routed. Such is his luck, we assume.

The people of Lowell are supposedly ashamed of his losing reputation, but the film doesn't manage to make you think that Mickey is truly ostracized. We get more of a sense that his family (notably his mother, played by Melissa Leo) disapproves of his "MTV" girlfriend (Amy Adams), which further underlines how the film is not really about boxing. It's more about talking about and preparing for it, which is a good part of why the film is boring.

I found this film a waste of two hours that could have been improved with some switcheroos (directional, directorial, etc.). It's worth avoiding just for the unintentionally soul-destroying, hard-to-watch scene when Bale and Leo sing one of those "duets for old times" with "I Started a Joke." Plus because my friend, a Massachusetts native, says that Leo's accent (as well as the, to use his words, "self-parodic" view of New England) is somewhat of a disgrace. Her performance in my view is cartoonish, to be sure, but also pretty solid. Bale is good but not exceptional in his drugged out exaggeration, and Adams is alright, a moderate factor. I agree with Roger Ebert: Wahlberg, with a mediocre performance lacking in charisma, lets the film down. The notes he hits of anguish are valuable and heartrending, but since those are few and far between, a recast would have been a good idea. "The Fighter," with no modifications made, is one of the weakest contenders in the 2010 Oscar field. C

1 comment:

CMrok93 said...

An enjoyable film, with a lot of great moments, that gets even better with the pitch-perfect ensemble cast. Hopefully, Bale gets that Oscar he deserves so much.