Two Cranky Guys Take on Mark Wahlberg’s ‘Fighter’
Bruce Fretts: Well, Bret, we’ve jumped the gun again. Right after we had to revise our Best Movies of 2010 list to include The King’s Speech, now we’ve seen The Fighter, which I thought was even better. Do you agree it’s a…wait for it, I’m going to pummel you into submission with boxing clichés…knockout?
Bret Watson: I wasn’t knocked out. The cast gives great performances playing one big dysfunctional family, but the movie itself is a donut: At the center is a hole, a cipher, a boring character, the titular boxer Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg. But see the movie for the family circle of crazy characters choking him.
Bruce: But you love donuts!
Bruce: Wahlberg was smart not to overplay his role as Ward, because he was surrounded by such big, brilliant performances, especially by Christian Bale as his crackhead brother/trainer and Homicide‘s Melissa Leo as his domineering mom/manager.
Bret: Wahlberg was suitably subdued as a guy who has always been overshadowed by his showboat brother and cowed by his manager mom. But aside from the tired old underdog-gets-his-day sports story, Micky is just not that interesting a character. When he’s at the center of a scene, the movie goes slack. All the best lines go to everybody else.
Bruce: Wahlberg is a deceptively subtle actor. He has a flat affect that can come across as stiff in crap like Planet of the Apes and The Other Guys. But in good films like Boogie Nights, The Fighter or The Departed, he works as a valuable counterbalance to a more volatile ensemble.
Bret: His character’s boxing style resembles the way he goes through life: He lets himself be a punching bag for five rounds or more, takes a pummeling, then comes on strong at the end. Reminds me of the rope-a-dope strategy used by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman, detailed in the much better boxing movie When We Were Kings. But that’s a documentary so maybe it’s an unfair comparison.
Bruce: Good point—I hadn’t made that connection. As good as Wahlberg is, Bale is flat-out amazing. He’s an actor who takes big risks—like that silly gravelly voice he uses as Batman—but in this case, it really pays off. If he doesn’t win an Oscar for best supporting actor, I’ll be shocked.
Bret: Bale is a livewire here—it’s hard to believe he’s the same guy who plays Batman. Melissa Leo just gets keeps getting better—let’s not forget she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Frozen River—and Amy Adams gets gritty as Micky’s girlfriend who fights his battles for him with his family.
Bruce: Leo will get an Oscar nomination too and might even win. But Amy Adams was the weak link. She’s a lightweight—she’s cute and appealing as a Disney princess in Enchanted and a plucky nun in Doubt, but I just didn’t buy her as a tough Boston barmaid. It didn’t help that she was the only cast member who didn’t quite master the Masshole accent. I would’ve rather seen a more substantive actress like Two Cranky Guys fan Kerry O’Malley in that role. But that’s pretty much my only complaint about the movie.
Bret: You are going to lose our Southie fan base if you keep using the phrase “Masshole.”
Bruce: We have a Southie fan base?
Bret: Her name is Greta. She smokes Parliaments and drinks Miller.
Bruce: So you believed Adams? I thought those wonderfully skanky actresses who played Wahlberg’s sisters would’ve wiped the floor with her in a barfight.
Bret: Adams’ only problem was that she was so much better looking than other other woman in the vicinity, it was hard to believe she lived in the same dumpy universe. And I am not as anal about accents as you are. Does it also bother you when you watch Hamlet that everyone in Denmark speaks English?
Bruce: I don’t watch Hamlet. Remember, I’m the guy who enjoys the Beethoven dog movies, not the Beethoven symphonies. I did like the rest of The Fighter‘s supporting cast, especially Jack McGee, a favorite of mine from Rescue Me, as Wahlberg’s dad. And I didn’t realize until after I saw the film that Mickey O’Keefe, a real-life Lowell, Massachusetts, police officer who trained Ward, played himself in the movie. He brought a lot of authenticity to the role.
Bret: Yes, the supporting cast was flawless—much more intriguing than the main character. Did you like the climactic fight? I thought it was effective.
Bruce: I liked the way David O. Russell shot the boxing scenes. He made them feel fresh, which is hard to do after seeing films like Raging Bull and Rocky I-VI. I wish it had turned into less of a conventional sports movie near the end, but that’s how the true story played out, so it’s hard to quibble.
Bret: It was a bit too pat. The family wounds heal quickly after one big confrontation. That’s when the Cinderella trajectory kicks in.
Bruce: I’m a boxing-movie aficionado, and I’d rank The Fighter a notch below classics like Raging Bull and Rocky and slightly above solid contenders like The Hurricane and Rocky III (my favorite of the sequels, and not just because Mr. T is in it). Where would you put it in the pantheon?
Bret: Believe it or not, I have not seen any Rocky movies. It’s a gap in my education—one I’m in no hurry to fill. My rule of them is, If it stars Stallone, leave it alone. Learned that in Boy Scouts, along with the leaflets three and red sky at night maxims. I earned a merit badge in B Movies.
Bruce: I pity you, fool. The original Rocky was my favorite movie as a kid. I’ve seen all the sequels. Never a big Rambo fan—was that more your speed?
Bret: I’ve never seen a Rambo movie, either. But I loved My Dinner with Andre.
Bruce: Knowing you, it’s because he picked up the check. I prefer Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bride.
Bret: Inconceivable! So you didn’t like Andre?
Bruce: That’s directed by Louis Malle, which in English means Louis Bad.
Bret: One of my all-time favorite movies. Maybe someone will reboot it as My Dinner with Rocky and then you’ll appreciate it. By the way, has anyone made a sports movie that doesn’t end with underdogs triumphing—or the death of one athlete? Those seem to be the only options.
Bruce: You’re right, but up until the climax, this is a much more unorthodox film than most sports movies. David O. Russell was a bold choice to direct. He’d worked with Wahlberg before on another very good film, Three Kings, but hadn’t released a movie since 2004′s I Heart Huckabees, when he had a famous meltdown directing Lily Tomlin. Bale was caught on tape losing it during filming of the last Terminator flick. In this case, combustible combination of Russell and Bale ended up with an explosive result. In a good way.
Bret: Three Kings—now there’s a great movie. Entirely underrated. And unlike The Fighter, it’s filled with unexpected moments.
Bruce: Agreed. And Wahlberg played well off George Clooney and Ice Cube, one of the most unlikely trios in modern films.
Bret: Whereas Wahlberg is mostly a punching bag in The Fighter. It’s as if the secondary characters, particularly Bale’s, keep trying to steal the movie, retrain the camera’s gaze. “Hey, why are you trailing that mope Micky? Follow me to the fun stuff…”
Bruce: If you consider crack addiction “fun stuff”…
Bret: It’s more interesting to watch rambunctious Dicky with his crack problem than Micky and his mommy problem. “I want to be my own man, wah wah wah.” Nut up, boxer boy.
Bruce: Speaking of nuts and boxers, Wahlberg has come a long way from his days an underwear model. Didn’t you do a few Calvin Klein shoots with him?
Bret: It was a brief gig. Rimshot.
Bruce: You nut. Well, I’m adding The Fighter to my Best Movies of 2010 list at No. 4, just ahead of The King’s Speech and knocking off Shutter Island. Are you sticking with your Top 5?
Bret: I am. I’m surprised you’re putting The Fighter in your top 5, but I’m not putting up much of a fight.
Bruce: Would you say you’re… throwing in the towel? Have I missed any other boxing clichés?
Bret: No, I think the movie covered them for you.
Bruce: Now that’s hitting below the belt!
Bret: I’d fight back, but I’d be punching below my weight. The only ring you belong in is Ringling’s.
Bruce: To quote Roberto Duran: No mas! No mas!
Does The Fighter deserve a shot at the Best Movies of 2010 title? Post a comment and Two Cranky Guys will respond!