New year, new look, new blog / The Fighter (2010)

If you’ve had a chance to read my blog, you know that I said in my very first post that I would generate 100 reviews of film and writing that I enjoyed during the summer. As with most endeavors, I wildly overestimated the amount I would be able to accomplish in the time that I had.

However, my boundless enthusiasm prevails in the new year, and with some encouragement and the sense of enjoyment I get from thinking about and writing about films and entertainment, I will endeavor to restart my blog and give myself an excuse to avoid more serious work, and maybe, just maybe, help you waste five to ten minutes a week of your employer’s time this year.

As a side note, while this blog will remain hosted on blogger, I plan on eventually moving the business end over to my website (andrewroback[dot]com) where I will eventually start another blog related more to my research. Without further delay, my first review of the new year.

The Fighter (2010)

Dir. David O. Russel, 112 min., in Chicago theaters

When I went to see the visually beautiful Black Swan (2010)* I saw the trailer for The Fighter and leaned over to say to my wife “I think I’ve seen this film before. Wasn’t it called Rocky?”

Boxing films in general seem to typify the underdog storyline trajectory that we crave so very much when we go to the theaters. This type of plot line is embedded in almost every film that we pay to see, especially in films about sports, and most especially in films about boxing. As most film watchers will agree (I think?): you go to a film to see that film, but you take with you every film that you can remember watching (amongst other things).

I am a huge sucker for most sports films, so I don’t need a great deal of convincing to watch one, but I have to say that boxing films don’t quite do as much for me since they seem to be so heavily interested in the build up to the final fight sequence that the rest of the movie becomes window dressing. The Fighter spices things up with two exciting fight sequences, while introducing concurrent plot lines of family drama and a love interest story.

Most of the drama centers on the tension between our boxer, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his dysfunctional family, including mother/manager Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) and brother/trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) who rides the laurels of a questionable knockdown he scored in a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard that most of the world outside of Lowell, MA has long forgotten. Wahlberg gives us his typical ineffectual line delivery and flat facial expressions, which actually fit the role well since he is a passive punching bag (pardon the pun) of a character both in the ring and out. Amy Adams plays his love interest (Charlene Flemming) who causes the (relative) change in Wahlberg’s character, causing him to finally start working towards what he wants rather than being used as a payday for his white trash, lecherous family.

The camera in the film leers on Adams, stressing the her objectification as a character and woman by her surroundings. Bale’s movements are jerky and erratic, and his line delivery is insufferable (which I suppose was the point). Despite the tawdry attempts at engendering pathos for his character later in the film using his infant son (who really only appears to tug at the heart strings), perhaps the saddest scene is watching him reenact the fight with Sugar Ray that made him the “pride of Lowell” with a fellow junkie in a seedy crack house. The film evolves from a fighting story to a tripartite redemption story, with Adams’, Bale’s, and Wahlberg’s characters all seeking a better existence through his slim chance at success in the ring.

It’s hard not to think of Rocky when watching this film, but after some consideration, this film doesn’t necessarily rely on all of the same tropes (though there is at least one training montage). The fight scenes themselves alternate between typical film and the type of grainy image you might see on a cathode ray tube television in the 90’s, with angles that look like what you might have seen on HBO. However, while that was a nice gimmick, it didn’t do much for me as a viewer. I expect no realism from a filmed boxing sequence. I’m not the biggest boxing fan, but fights I have watched involve about ten exciting seconds when punches are actually landing; I’ve yet to see a fight where the pugilists stand toe to toe in the center of the ring and trade punches in the face like drunken pub brawlers.

Performance-wise, most critics are talking about Bale. He seems to have two gears to his body: gaunt and unbelievably ripped. With most of his gaunt roles, it’s difficult to separate his physical appearance from his performance since he looks like a human skeleton (I’m thinking of The Machinist (2004) in particular). In terms of ethos, the role is nailed; I’m not sure if the clip at the end of the film was intended to confirm his ability to capture the real-life character of Dicky Eklund or not, but that certainly is what it accomplishes. Without spoiling the plot, I would say that I didn’t feel for his character in the level that I thought the film was going for, but his performance was still impressive if only for his ability to make the role so memorable.


*I would have loved to review Black Swan, but I saw it so long ago (opening night) that I doubt I could do a full review justice. If you liked other Aronofsky films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) then it is well worth a viewing.

Well, it’s good to be back. I plan on tossing in more classic reviews this go around since I can’t see myself making it to the theater as often as I would like this year due to my insanely busy schedule. My goal is going to be at least one review per week, maybe more if time allows.

Next up: A classic review of Wes Craven’s surprisingly postmodern Scream (1996)