Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Director Report Card: David O. Russell (2010)

5. The Fighter

At this point in his career, David O. Russell seems to have alienated most industry people with his massive dickish behavior. His career was built on eccentric comedies so making “The Fighter,” a mainstream, true-to-life, Oscar-baiting film, was probably solely a business decision. (His next movie is a video game adaptation, so maybe it wasn’t…) I wasn’t anticipating the film, expecting a typical underdog story swiped from “Rocky.” Well, yeah, it is that, but it’s also the story of a normal guy’s relationship with his wildly dysfunctional white trash family.

Right from the beginning, Russell spices up the story with racing cameras and other tricks. There’s a lot of training montages, obviously, but there are all dynamic and a few actually got me kind of pumped. The actual boxing scenes show Russell’s talent for action. The two boxing matches near the end of the film are, in particular, extremely exciting and rousing. Russell even visually quotes “Raging Bull” without it coming off as obnoxious or obvious.

As is expected of an awards courting production such as this, the performance take center stage over everything. Mark Wahlberg, seemingly the only person who can stand Russell, is a real hit-and-miss performer. He sleepwalks through action hero roles but, when given comedy, he does better. He does a decent job, undergoes an impressive physical transformation, making Mickey a sympathetic sad sack. Christen Bale and Melissa Leo both won Oscars for their roles here. Is it warranted? Leo plays Mickey’s mother and manager, a manipulative, selfish, narrow-minded, bitter old evil shrew of a woman. She’s always surrounded by her posse of five daughters, all of which are just as trashy and stupid as she is. Leo certainly makes this despicable human being well-rounded but, as far as I’m concerned, she stole the Best Supporting Actress award from little Haliee Steinfeld.

What about Bale? He’s got the juiciest role in the movie, as the crack head has-been brother that is pretty much directly responsible for ruining Mickey’s life and career. Oh, it’s a good performance, don’t get me wrong, and Bale probably deserved the award for it. It comes off a bit like an inner city trash minstrel show but Bale, naturally, commits everything to it. But Bale has given better performance and, personally, nothing will ever top Patrick Bateman for me. Amy Adams did better then Melissa Leo, as Mickey’s supportive girlfriend. She’s had a rough life but still has the ability to see the good in people. Adams is really a strong dramatic actress who will probably be doomed to stupid leading roles in stupid rom-coms for the rest of her life, simply due to the nature of the industry.

The movie is watchable character study through the first hour, but also a somewhat depressing slug through miserable human lives. But, after Bale’s character winds up in jail and Mickey cuts his asshole family out of his life, actually gets his life together, and starts to find some success as a boxer, the movie actually becomes a legitimately inspiring true life story. The family drama ties in dramatically in the last act. “The Fighter” doesn’t completely escape the conventions of the genre but there are a number of reasons its worth watching. If this represents the next step in Russell’s career, I guess I’m okay with that. [Grade: B]

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