Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Fighter Review

As the Oscar season gets well under way, the nominations are overdue a sports movie. Triumph over adversity, crowd-pleasing finales and the chance for an actor to physically transform themselves are often lapped up by voters, and there's a strong chance The Fighter could perform well come the end of February.

In the sports genre, the main problem can be that clich├ęs are pretty much unavoidable. Most of the available narrative paths, even the moderately unconventional ones, have been trodden many times. With The Fighter, chances are you'll know where it's headed.

Yet that doesn't mean it isn't an enjoyable journey getting there. The film centres around the true story of boxer Micky Ward who tries to boost his career just as his crack-smoking brother Dicky, also a boxer, falls further into addiction and further away from his former glory days. With an expansive and controlling family, Micky may be forced to abandon his dependant brother to succeed.

The Fighter is dominated by a series of brilliant performances. Much has been made of Christian Bale's depiction of Dicky, and he is genuinely astonishing. Having lost considerable weight from his bulked-up Batman physique, Bale is simultaneously gaunt yet wide-eyed, funny and goofy, but also deeply saddening. As he slides evermore into his destructive addiction, the waste of Dicky's potential is deeply felt. It's an extremely physical role, and a complete departure from Bale's previous roles.

Amy Adams plays it tough and feisty as Micky's barmaid girlfriend, who opposes his hilariously defensive and devoted sisters, whilst Melissa Leo is excellent as Micky's mother and manager, convinced that being completely dedicated to family is a professional managerial style.

However, Mark Wahlberg is also fantastic as the calm, focused and weary eye of the surrounding tumultuous storm, completely grounding the film when it's in danger of focusing on too many larger-than-life characters. His Micky grants viewers a relatable pathway into the unfolding drama.

The boxing sequences, mostly in the film's second half, are gritty and realistic, well-choreographed and genuinely exciting. Wahlberg excels physically in these scenes, and adds emotion and humanity to the spectacle.

While The Fighter is full of excellent performances and is well made and interesting, it's difficult to become particularly involved in it. You'll sympathise with the characters, you'll marvel at Bale's exceptional performance, and enjoy the visceral fights, but it's not as heart-wrenching or moving as you might expect it to be, never making the leap from being simply a great film to a modern classic.

The Fighter doesn't offer much particularly new, but it is a great example of the boxing sub-genre. The final fight comes off as slightly underwhelming, but it's a solid and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, with excellent acting and a fun soundtrack.

Entertainment Value: 4/5
Genre Value: 4/5
Style: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4/5

Brighton Rock Review

After an acclaimed turn in the Ian Curtis biopic Control, Sam Riley leads an all-star British cast in a remake of the classic Brit-noir Brighton Rock as the iconic Pinkie, a violent young man struggling to make a name for himself in Brighton's criminal underworld.

When complications arise in a murder Pinkie carries out, he is forced to gain the sympathy of innocent bystander Rose, who holds circumstantial evidence of the crime.

Based upon Graham Greene's classic novel, Rowan Joffe's new adaptation shifts the drama from the 1930s to the context of the 60s mods and rockers conflict. While this accounts for an exciting central set piece, the decision seems somewhat superficial, not particularly adding much in terms of plot or themes.

The mods' and rockers' rivalry deserves better treatment, which would seem out of place within Brighton Rock's narrative.

However, Joffe's version begins promisingly – an ominous soundtrack, gloomy lighting and gorgeous cinematography set a menacing mood and the convoluted series of events that results in Pinkie and Rose's unlikely pairing is well orchestrated.

The problems arise in a flabby mid-section. Posters for the film boast of performances from Helen Mirren and John Hurt, yet Mirren's work as Ida, Rose's boss who is determined to get to the bottom of Pinkie's crime, feels disappointingly lazy and bland. Hurt has little to do except sit around and look concerned at the state of Brighton's crumbling society.

The biggest trouble with Brighton Rock is in the central relationship between Pinkie and Rose. The performances are excellent – Riley is brooding, with an undercurrent of fear and sadness, and Andrea Riseborough is absolutely brilliant as Rose, the troubled, beating heart of a film in desperate need of one.

However the script never gives the audience a reason to believe in the budding almost-romance between the pair. Pinkie is, frankly, a thoroughly unlikeable character, and it becomes difficult not to question quite why Rose remains so devoted to him.

The best antiheroes give you a reason to root for them even though you know you shouldn't really, but Joffe's screenplay never allows for this.

That said, Brighton Rock is worth a viewing. The film recovers slightly in its final act, with a dark and involving conclusion. It also looks beautiful – even though the 60s setting doesn't really work, the costumes and sets are fantastically realised, and the sweeping cinematography is striking. But there is always an annoying sense that Brighton Rock should be better than it actually is, and it's a feeling that's even harder to shake once you've left the cinema.

Entertainment Value: 2.5/5
Genre Value: 3/5
Style: 3.5/5
Overall Rating: 3/5