Monday, December 6, 2010

My Favorite Thing About "The Fighter" Is...

I saw The Fighter last week and didn't even deliver a "this is all the time I have" 7 word review. I have more than 7 words on this one though what follows is not a traditional review. The first thing I tweeted was...

It still applies. Yep, Christian Bale is doing his best work ever in the co-lead role of Dicky Eklund (Let's call it The Fighters) or at least his best since American Psycho (2000). Barring Geoffrey Rush's mutant power (awards magnetism) the "supporting" Oscar is most definitely Bale's to lose. And this is an important distinction: It'd be his to lose even without his baity penchant for putting his health at risk to dwindle down to anorexic nothingness for a role. This is his third time doing so. We hope it's the last.

A Tale of Two (Half) Brothers

But what's my favorite thing about The Fighters other than him?

I guess it'd be the way Melissa Leo (playing the mother to both fighters) and Christian Bale are always believably in sync as mother/son. They're practically twins with their darting hollow eyes, perpetually nervous body language and emotionally vampiric yet super vibrant energy. Would that more actors would co-author such compelling familial bonds while playing at "family". What's more, Bale and Leo have mastered the weird arms-length charisma of charming people who are simultaneously completely off-putting. Alice Ward and Dicky Eklund are the type of people you can't help but want to hang out with... but from a very safe distance, with plentiful escape routes.

Melissa Leo's on fire.
No, no. it's not that. That sympatico style is great but it's not my favorite thing about the movie.

Also worth loving is the everyman mundanity of Amy Adams and Mark Wahlberg, a somewhat perverse use of their combined star power. (Though they both have it, they're more recognizably "human" and thus smaller than giant film stars, here and elsewhere). Charlene (and Adams who plays her) and Micky (and Wahlberg who plays him) are constantly drowned out by the cacophony of Much Bigger Personalities surrounding them. It's hilarious how often they both just shut right down in the center of a scene with an 'I give up' pout. And they're the "Stars" for lack of a better word!

No, no.

The best element has to be the idiosyncratic humanity that director David O. Russell keeps breathing into the proceedings. By all rights, The Fighter ought to feel far more generic than it does; make no mistake, this is a "true story" inspirational sports biopic. Russell keeps finding ways to vary the tone, play with the moodswings (even perpetually "on" people like Alice & Dicky have quiet days) and have fun with the framing, which generously allows the orbiting cast members to contribute to the movie as well (the standout being Jack McGee as Alice's impressively sturdy husband George). Sports movie fans won't like the film quite as much, one suspects, since the boxing scenes are arguably the most generically executed part.

And then there's the subplot involving the making of the unflattering HBO documentary on Dicky "High on Crack Street" (1995). Dicky willfully deceives himself about it but the doc scenes gives the film tremendous tragicomic boost.

There's also a choice scene in which Micky & Charlene go to the movies and... well, I don't want to spoil it.

David O. Russell loves a rangey ensemble.
 Oh wait, I know.

My favorite thing is the clown car chorus of Dicky & Micky's trashy big haired sisters (John Waters will be green with envy). There are so many of them. They're the most abrasively comic gaggle of sisters since the perpetual assault of Adam Sandler's siblings in Punchdrunk Love.

Or. Well...

The best thing might be the way The Fighters manages to slide so easily into David O. Russell's undervalued filmography even though it's much less original than his other films. When some auteurs make stabs at mainstream genres or popular appeal they lose themselves. Such is not the case here. Russell is still in love with the juggling act of impossibly noisy mixes of disparate acting styles (Flirting With Disaster, I Heart Huckabees), he's still fond of Oedipal undercurrents (Spanking the Monkey, Flirting...), he can still turn a film on a dime from comedy to 'wait, that's not funny' disturbing (Three Kings, Huckabees)  and he's still just about the only director who Mark Wahlberg should ever work with (though, that said, "Micky Ward" has nothing on Wahlberg's Kings or Huckabees performances... the character's too much of a cypher this time.)

But no, it's not that. It's... NO. 

No. No. No. You have to stop somewhere.

Needless to say, The Fighter is incredibly watchable. It's a solid good time at the movies. More importantly, it's a total K.O. for fans of Bale, Leo and O. Russell. A-/B+

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