Friday, December 24, 2010

The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010) -- C+

Aside from an intriguingly shot opening credits sequence, there's nothing about David O. Russell's The Fighter that stands out, with little demonstrating a nuanced presentation or understanding of the small Massachusetts town in which it's set, and constant preference of histrionics over character revelation. The "based on a true story" tale of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) attempts to integrate the grittier, neo-realist detail of Raging Bull (crack houses, domestic disputes and violence, self-destructive personalities), while retaining the sentimental and (phony) ethnic pathos of Rocky - ultimately an unpleasant hybrid, especially when Russell is in Aronofsky mode (not altogether surprising since the Black Swan director receives an executive producer credit), wielding broadly sketched characters, lead-pipe ironies and contrived scenarios (foremost a sweater-wearing wet rag who comments on an art film's "gorgeous cinematography"), a ploy to more easily and cheaply attain emotional response. Most laughable is a prison scene where Ward's brother Dickey (Christian Bale) prances into a screening room as HBO is about to premiere a documentary about his crack addiction. The inmates invariably cheer, high five, and laud the inexplicably popular inmate (emotional high), then turn on him once Dickey demands the film be shut off (emotional low). Much of the film unfortunately functions in this way, losing any middle ground for fluctuating extremes. The acting has garnered much attention (especially Bale and Melissa Leo, playing Ward's chain-smoking mother) and they fulfill their method acting goals sufficiently. However, it insufficiently compensates for Russell's overall disinterest, only sporadically displaying the verve and humanism present in his excellent Three Kings.

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