Friday, February 18, 2011

The Fighter (15)

The film's strong emotional impact encourages the use of many boxing puns...
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington
On general release from 2nd February 2011

When I reviewed The King's Speech the other week, I said something to the effect that yes, extremely rich people do have their issues, but their wealth insulates them from their full impact. Well, if you struggled to sympathise with George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, this could be the film for you.

I'm delighted to say that The Fighter continues the recent trend (The Town, Conviction) in treating the struggles of those in the lower layers of the working class with the respect and the seriousness they sorely need. Based on the real life story of boxing brothers 'Irish' Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, The Fighter examines scraps in and out of the ring, in the post-industrial city of Lowell, Massachusetts.

As the film begins, Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is lacking confidence after three consecutive defeats. When Micky belatedly discovers he's giving away twenty lbs to his next opponent, he has to take the fight to get paid, but takes a ferocious beating. Under pressure from new girlfriend Charlotte (Amy Adams) to sack past it crack addict Dicky (Christian Bale) as trainer and incompetant mother (Melissa Leo) as manager, Micky ends-up drifting away from the sport. But when Dicky is sent to jail for pimping, resisting arrest and assaulting the cops he can still outrun, Micky decides to take adopt a more professional outlook, and eventually earns himself a world title shot.

The film's strong emotional impact encourages the use of many boxing puns, all of which I will avoid. In many ways, it echoes boxing flicks such as Rocky, but resists the over-the-top fight scenes of Sylvester Stallone's franchise, and has the benefit of actually being true, to a large extent at least. Wahlberg and Bale's characters are well drawn, allowing both to flesh out the scripts with excellent performances. Bale in particular turns in the kind of performance that again marks him out of one his generation's few outstanding actors. Adams and Leo fare less well as no-nonsense barmaid and ferocious matriarch respectively, and this is at least in part because their characters are more like caricatures. Neither faces any real choices or turning points, and so the actresses seem to strike the same note throughout. This is where I get the sense that, though David O. Russell and his writing team are artistically interested in lower class life, they do not fully understand the mechanics of it.

The dilapidated city of Lowell is an important supporting character, and it is the basis of all the behaviour witnessed on screen. In the 19th and early 20th century, it was an important centre of textiles manufacture. But Lowell was long past its prime by the time Micky and Dicky hit theirs. Poverty and decay was everywhere, and the emptiness gave rise to the usual drug problems. Though this is portrayed in a matter of fact way, Russell does not explore any it in any depth. Similarly, though he respects the resilience and stoicism of Lowell's people, he seems to be making a virtue of a brutal necessity.

Still, The Fighter is very enjoyable, as were The Town and Conviction. As the social crisis continues unabated, and - perhaps more importantly - working people start to fight back, we can hope to see this mini cinematic movement continue, and even deepen.
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