Quick Note #1: With I Love You Phillip Morris now opening in the US and playing in select cities, you can find my earlier review from the spring when I saw during its UK release here.
Quick Note #2: Have reviewed around 50 movies on Brillig this year, 45 or so current releases. That leaves at least a couple dozen I didn't get to, and if I can I'm going to try and mention all even if briefly by the end of the year.
Quick Note #3: I saw The Social Network for a second time a few weeks ago. Just the fact that I decided to see again makes it one of my lead choice favorites for a Best Picture nomination, and perhaps even for the win. That said, while I enjoyed it the second time, I don't see it becoming one of those movies like The Shining or The Muppet Movie, Stepmom or Jerry Maguire, The Empire Strikes Back or Goodfellas, that I might happily see again and again and again. A very good movie, just not going to enter my pantheon.
So on Friday I was a somewhat bad boy. I had meetings in Manhattan at 10AM and 11AM and at 5PM. The 11 didn't break until 12:35, I hadn't even visited the Barnes & Noble the meeting was scheduled to be near to, and I decided to just stay in Manhattan instead of making a 2.5 hour token appearance in the office. Quite happily, when I realized I could just dash down to the AMC Loews Lincoln Center and see the 1:25 of The Fighter if it was on a decent size screen, it proved to be on their biggest, the balconied Loews auditorium.
This is a passion film for Mark Wahlberg, an actor whom I have long been a fan of, and I'm going to review a few other big passion movies for people in the days to come. It's not a passion we share, however. Not a big boxing fan, and I went into the movie with no idea of who this Micky Ward person is. I'm reading reviews that discuss how his big fights with Arturo Gatti, my reaction is "huh, what big fights, never heard of the guy." But it's Wahlberg, which is good. His director is David O. Russell, whose Flirting With Disaster from many years ago I recall as being quite hilarious, whose Three Kings (also with Wahlberg) was OK, and who's done only one other film, I Heart Huckabees, in the eleven years since Three Kings arrived. There's decent pedigree in the rest of the cast, with Christian Bale (an entire episode of Sneak Previews could be devoted to his weird-ass career), Amy Adams (very good) and Melissa Leo (caught everyone's' eye deservedly with Frozen River).
And ultimately, the movie ends up being pretty good, but nowhere near great. I'd hate to see it copping a Best Picture nomination, I certainly think it can get an acting award or two, it's a mix of good creative decisions and bad creative decisions.
There's quite a contrast in acting styles. Wahlberg works for me by always being very quietly good in his work. Part of it with Wahlberg is that he's nice to look at, but it's not that he just coasts along on his good looks like maybe you could say of an Ashton Kutcher. And that's exactly what Wahlberg is here. So quiet you hardly notice he's in the movie at all, even though he's the center of it, and especially because he's playing against two other actors who are totally acting. In the case of Christian Bale, it works for me. I've read a few reviews of the movie that criticize his performance for essentially being over-acting Academy Award bait, and maybe they're right but I say give it to him. He's done the "lose weight" thing before, he's done the character immersion stuff to a hilt, it's kind of like his schtick almost so I don't hold it against him the way I might somebody else that his crack addict character here of Micky Ward's brother is gaunt in a totally gaunt way and strung out in a totally strung out way. And there's something about how he manages to turn on a dime in a strung out kind of way to not be entirely strung out when he realizes he's three hours late for an appointment that works for me. Some of the best scenes emotionally at the end of the movie when Micky is insisting on having his crack addict brother work for him again after a stay at jail work because of the contrast with the more strung out version of Christian Bale earlier in the film.
What doesn't work for me is Melissa Leo as the mother of the two. She's clearly been instructed by the director to be a harridan on an incredibly grand scale, leading this group of harpies that are Micky Ward's sisters. All with big hair that should probably be outlawed outside of Texas, all of it so incredibly godawful blonde that I could hardly look at the screen for fear it would be like staring directly at the sun, all overly made up, all indistinguishable from one another. Maybe that's what they were like in real life, but hear you've got this nice quiet Mark Wahlberg guy the film is supposed to be about and there you've got this thing, this blob, this scourge of sisterhood that you can't bare to watch. When I'm talking about bad creative decisions in the movie, this first and foremost among them. The strange thing is that you read the articles and reviews on the movie and find out how hard they worked to do justice to the fights in the fight scenes, using the actual commentary from the HBO coverage of the matches and seeking out old matching cameras so that they would match the exact look of what an HBO boxing match would have looked like back then with all the same graphics. Which has some cost to the movie dramatically, you can't emphasize the drama of the fights the way a Rocky movie might by going slo-mo or showing nice extra digital droplets of blood that were left over from 300, because you're purposely trying to work off the same canvas here as then. So you ratchet up the spectacle of Ward's family in such a garish and over the top kind of way? There's one person I've come across in life who kind of sounds like the mother sometimes, so we can't say there are no people like this.
Amy Adams I do like, from first stumbling across her in Junebug a few years ago through Ella Enchanted and on to here. She has range, she has skill, and her quietly forceful romantic interest (later wife) for Micky Ward plays perfectly to what Wahlberg is doing. Her style isn't exactly like Wahlberg's. Wahlberg always seems to be Wahlberg no matter who he's playing, while Amy Adams is doing one of those "oh, that's Amy Adams" performances because she's deep enough in you don't recognize her at first. But the two just play really really well off of one another.
In the film, Micky Ward breaks his hand when he tries to save his brother from being arrested, and a bad guy cop goes after Ward's hand with a nightstick. According to Wikipedia, Ward had been having trouble with his right hand during some of the fights during his first go-round, and then had surgery during his retirement years before getting back into the sport where bones from the pelvis were fused into the bones on the hand to strengthen them. Here, I prefer the real life version to what the script presents. The script has to show the brother's complete dark descent to this awful moment when bad brother leads to hand being broken, so that there's then this nice complete rise up to to triumph. I was dozing off during the slow mid-section of the movie that's devoted to showing us that the brother whom we already know full well is a crack addict is going downward downward downward, and if this 114 minute movie had been a 105 minute movie without or a 114 minute movie dealing with the actual events, I think I'd have liked more. In real life, the brother didn't break his crack addiction, either. Whether it was at a lesser point during those big fights with Gatti that aren't covered in this film or whether it was working in spite of, that we don't know.
Because of the decision to keep the boxing real and the brother Bale, the movie ended up working for me most powerfully as a family saga, and it works well enough as both. I'm not going to push people to the theatre to see, but I'm reasonably certain you'll more than like if you end up going. And this might be the best work from Christian Bale that I've seen, which is no small thing in and of itself.
Quick Note #4: I might have been a little unfair to Anne Hathaway in my review of Love & Other Drugs. Thinking on her work in Rachel Getting Married, she does have the same range as Amy Adams, she may be choosing not to go in that direction.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.