THE FIGHTER: The Film Babble Blog Review

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale play Boston boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund in this strong drama based on true events.

Set in the early ’90s, the film begins documentary style as HBO is filming Bale for a film about his comeback. We see archival video of the real Eklund in the ring with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Wahlberg is following in his half brother’s footsteps, being trained by him for an upcoming fight. Their tough talking mother Melissa Leo manages Wahlberg and also has 7 daughters who act as a sort of trashy teased Greek chorus on the sidelines.

A very skinny Bale (well, maybe not as thin as in THE MACHINIST) is unhinged and bug-eyed, yet utterly believable and not over the top in his portrayal. He spends most of his time in a crackhouse when he should be at the gym with Wahlberg.

Wahlberg meets Amy Adams as a bartender and asks her out, but he stands her up because he’s embarrassed about losing his latest bout. She confronts him on this and almost immediately they are dating.

Wahlberg is offered a chance to be paid for training year round in Las Vegas for a chance at the title, but his loyalty to his mother and brother gets in the way.

Adams believes he should take the opportunity and this makes her unpopular with Wahlberg’s family – especially the 7 sisters who gang up on Adams, but they find that the petite redhead has a bit of the fight in her too.

Trying to hold on Wahlberg, Bale goes to the dark seedy side of addiction and creepy criminal behavior. We find out that the HBO documentary about Bale is actually about crack not his improbable comeback.

Bale lands in prison while Wahlberg signs on for new management. Wahlberg starts winning fights, but he’s aware that it’s Bale’s training that ultimately gets him there.

With it’s blue collar background and salt of the earth archetypes, THE FIGHTER doesn’t break any new ground and its narrative rambles at times, but it has solid performances and a great grasp on the genre’s well worn conventions.

In his third film with director O. Russell, Wahlberg shows off the years of work he’s put into the part and delivers some of his most layered acting. Bale may steal every scene he’s in (it’s nearly impossible to look elsewhere when he’s on the screen), but Wahlberg more than holds his own as do Adams and Leo.

The fight scenes are shot digitally so that they resemble how boxing appears on television through bright lighting and resolution lines – an effect that enhances the realism nicely.

O. Russell has had trouble when thinking outside the box in previous work (I HEART HUCKABEES was an overreaching unfunny mess), but here his indulgences are reigned in – seems here he neatly thinks inside the box (or in the ring) and it pays off.

More later…

THE LOVELY BONES: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE LOVELY BONES (Dir. Peter Jackson, 2009)

“I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973.” So says Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) at the beginning of this adaptation of Alice Sebold’s 2002 best seller. Ronan’s voice-over comes not from beyond the grave, but from she calls “the blue horizon between heaven and earth.”

There’s no mystery to how she got there – a creepy neighbor (Stanley Tucci) in her family’s Norristown, Pennsylvanian suburb lured her into an underground bunker he built in a nearby field. In the months afterwards her disappearance throws her parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) into domestic disarray while her sister (Rose McIver) starts to suspect Tucci.

Ronan, well cast with her ocean colored eyes, watches her family from the mythic realm, which is not unlike the vivid ultra-colorful heaven of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, as she walks from one spectacular landscape to the next hoping to reconcile the messy end of her life and move on.

LORD OF THE RINGS visionary Peter Jackson keeps the camera moving with swooping crane shots and cuts with a good sense of juxtaposition, but the story is too drawn out to create much suspense. It’s an immaculately made movie, but it appears to be missing enough soul to really pull us in and make us care.

It also suffers from a strongly misplaced thread involving Susan Sarandon as the Mrs. Robinson-esque alcoholic grandmother with her bouffant hair, mink coats, and always present cigarette dangling from her fingers. A montage in which she attempts to help out and clean house should’ve been edited out – I understand that they felt the film needed some sort of comic relief, but this really feels forced.

Though overwrought at times, Wahlberg puts in a decent performance, at least better than in THE HAPPENING, as the obsessed father who constantly calls upon an investigating detective (Michael Imperioli from The Sopranos) to run checks on every possible suspect. It seems that they look into everybody in town before they get to Tucci, which is surprising since he lives across the street from the victim’s family.

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections – sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent.”

Ronan’s concluding musings are apt, for there is magnificence in this film – visually speaking that is. Otherwise, the connections are too tenuous and its pace is too plodding. I haven’t read the book on which it’s based, but I suspect that its most stirring passages were too cerebral to be translated to the big screen. At least as far as this film adaptation goes, THE LOVELY BONES is sadly a supremely unsatisfying experience.

More later…