Tuesday 1 March 2011

The Fighter (2011) - David O. Russell

The Fighter strikes me as an unusual film in Hollywood - a gritty, realistic family drama without the sugar-coating.  It's almost British in design, like a boxing version of Billy Elliot.

The realism stems from the documentary style of the opening interviews (providing material for the later television programme about brother Dicky (Christian Bale)).  This continues with each fight, the grainy visuals and commentary replicating a television broadcast. 

At the centre of the film is Mickey (Mark Wahlberg), a semi-professional boxer.  The title of the film is telling - each boxing round is a fight for Mickey to find his voice, to find his independence, as he strives to balance his career with his interfering family.  Often, as the family debate, the camera remains fixed on Wahlberg.  He is a gentle giant, the calm rock in the centre of the dysfunctional maelstrom that is his family, led by Dicky.  The problem with Bale's performance is that amongst the realistic style, he sticks out like a sore thumb - his over the top portrayal borders on caricature as he contends to steal each frame.  At times, he and the rest of the family are like an American version of the Royle Family.  By contrast, Wahlberg gives an understated and altogether more subtle and believable performance.  However, the film belongs to Amy Adams and Michelle Leo (girlfriend and mother respectively) - their acting ability has been surely recognised by their BAFTA and Oscar nominations.

The film drops off at the end, with footage of the real Mickey and Dicky shown over the credits.  It invites comparisons with the actors' performances (however credible) and ruins the illusion of the film.  Altogether, though, this is a well-paced and very well acted drama that deserves its place on the nomination lists.