Note: This has nothing to do with the movie, but it just happened and I wanted to write it down somewhere. I just got back from the corner store (Pepsi for one, please). There was an old, drunk idiot with uneven teeth raving about something or other. Stamp prices, bus frequency, lack of public restrooms, I don’t know, the usual stuff. As I came to the counter he started asking me, “Who’s the man?” and pointing to the sky. Obviously wanting me to say God, or Jesus, or something.
I was in no mood to humor him but didn’t want to cause a scene, so I pretended not to understand. He was persistent. Started saying “You don’t think he’s the man, do you?” and pointing down (as in “the devil”). He demanded which one I thought was the man. I finally told him I didn’t believe in either. He followed me out into the street and said to be his brother, I had to believe. I told him to have a good night. He said, “If you don’t believe, then fuck you!” and spit at me. Thank
god good fortune I was already crossing the street.
Onward, Christian soldiers!
I allow myself to get way too excited by a good trailer. And The Fighter had an awesome trailer. The best I’d seen all year. Surely this was the season’s great drama I’d been waiting for.
Yes and no. A great film this is not, but it definitely has its moments. Most of which are provided by Christian Bale as former boxer Dick Eklund.
We’ve long since passed the “he can do no wrong” phase with Bale. Terminator 4: the movie and Terminator 4: the meltdown combined to do a pretty serious number on his image. Public Enemies, for those of us who saw it, certainly didn’t help.
Still, Bale is clearly The Fighter’s main allure. I mean, everyone knows what Mark Wahlberg is going to bring at this point. There are no surprises there, and there never will be again. It’s fine; he’s fine. Likeable, semi-cool, pretty handsome. But I think we’re all pretty much done being excited by him, right? Huckabees was a long time ago.
No, this one was about Bale. And he delivered. I was worried maybe lunatic Bale was the only one we’d ever see again. The first scene seemed to confirm those suspicions. But what at first appears to be overacting is actually a masterful portrayal of a washed up crackhead clinging to former glory. He mixes funny with sad well. Ultimately this should be a very sad character. Former star boxer who has destroyed his life through drug addiction. They show you that. But it almost never stops being at least half a joke. It was confusing at first. Then, at the end, you see a few minutes of footage of the real Dick Eklund. At that point you realize Bale was probably spot on.
And maybe this story was spot on, too. That would explain why it doesn’t go where seems natural. Real life stories don’t follow established movie patterns. Sometimes The Fighter does, such as the predictable boy meets girl between Wahlberg and Amy Adams. But then other times it appears to be leading you somewhere, but then doesn’t give the satisfaction it seemed to promise.
In theory, unpredictability is good. In practice, it can often leave the viewer unfulfilled. The backbone of this story is the relationship between Wahlberg, Bale (half brothers), and the rest of their family. You grow to really hate these people, and yearn for Wahlberg to escape.
The lion’s share of the movie is spent shoving our faces in this family’s awfulness. His brother is a crackhead fuck-up. His mother (Treme‘s Melissa Leo) doesn’t seem to care about him. His many sisters are loud, grotesque, obnoxious, and say stupid things in that voice we all hate. They’re given roughly 5 times as much screen time as is necessary. Presumably this is because that white trash Boston accent is funny now? I don’t know, they were definitely supposed to be funny and I heard people laughing. I wasn’t amused. Neither was my boy Baxter, although to be fair he may not have been paying attention. Let’s just say that when you see a movie with Baxter its best not to ask too many questions afterwards*.
*excerpt from a post-Inception conversation:
me: How’d you like Ken Watanabe?
Me: You know, the asian guy.
Baxter: What asian guy?
Me: Are you serious? You know, the guy who hired him? The guy who gets shot in the dream-world? The guy looking at him on the plane when he wakes up?
Baxter: Oh yeah…..who was that guy?
The point is, the viewer is guided towards a hatred of this family, and you don’t get the resolution you crave. Ready-made resolution isn’t always going to be available in a true story. All the same, I’ve got to wonder why director David Russell (who apparently only directs Wahlberg movies) allows such a palpable hatred of the family to build. He really goes hard on the hero-as-martyr angle for almost the entire movie. The problem is, justice is never served. It left me wanting.
The action was also pretty subpar. The fights didn’t look particularly convincing, nor did they have me on the edge of my seat. I had hoped for some inspirational moments. There were few. Not so much as a slow-mo shot of the final knockout, and that should be elementary. There wasn’t even a particularly dramatic punch that I can remember. It seemed like the fights were an afterthought.
The movie really was all about the family. And yet, you don’t become attached to any of them. Even Wahlberg’s character is pretty hard to get behind. He mopes, hangs his head, gets pushed around by his horrible family, and just generally acts like an ineffectual pussy. Not exactly what you want to see in a movie about a professional boxer. I was barely happy for him when he won.
If you wanted to see The Fighter, go ahead and see it. There are reasons to. Christian Bale is one. Melissa Leo is another. The fact that its better than most junk is a third. But don’t expect the moon. This isn’t an oscar-caliber drama.