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Float like a brick – sting like a duck



The Fighter – David O Russell

Stop Press: Amy Adams can say f*** and flash her boobs. Forgive the crudity of my language and coarseness of thought: but welcome to the tone and ethos of this astonishingly over-rated meretricious, unpleasant, really bad film.

To be clear: I have absolutely no moral objections to ‘bad’ language and even the threshold of my aesthetic sensibility to swearing is set well above the average. Equally, I can derive some mild, really pretty mild, pleasure from seeing Ms Adams re-inventing herself as a foul-mouthed alley-cat standing her ground against the combined ignorant hostility of the family from Hell; and proving that nudity-wise she isn’t really the goody-two-shoes of Giselle in Enchanted. Though what Parkie would make of it after that lovely Meg Ryan (in an infinitely better film) let him down I don’t know.

Almost everything in this movie reeks: of stale sweat, coarse characterization, laughably grandiose ‘acting’ and deeply patronizing treatment of what, God help us, is supposed to be a true story. That this junk has been nominated for 7 Oscars is a mystery besides which Quantum Theory looks like a laundry list.

Where does one start? Well as the f***-rate probably sets the World record let’s look at that. I grew up with people and have lived within communities where swearwords outnumbered punctuation marks. It is usually tedious, occasionally expressive and always ugly. What I have never, ever found is that when the verb and adverbial form of f*** is used as often as here, anyone can dispense with the ‘c-word’ noun to round it off. So the language here, ostensibly ‘real’ and ‘earthy’ is actually coy and pretentious. It’s alright to f*** so to speak but not to break the ‘c-word’ taboo.

The Eklunds aren’t a family: they are a feral tribe led by she-wolf Alice, now Alice Ward; head parasite in a family of parasites. Mostly women, intentionally cast to be fat or ugly or both with make-down to match, the Eklund ‘girls’ are given nicknames – as if they were cats or dogs: delightful soubriquets – Pork, Tar, Little Alice, Red Dog and I kid-you-not Beaver. It is not clear that anyone in the Eklund/Ward family ever works or earns a living or does anything for themselves. Led by Mom they all appear to have lived off first the Boxing earnings of Dicky Eklund, one time ‘contender’ who once knocked a future champ down and then lived the rest of his life off this apparent achievement (“you didn’t knock him down – he slipped”) while throwing himself with dedication into a long term crack addiction. Now the family is sponging off his younger brother Micky’s (Mark Wahlberg) fighting prowess.

Dicky, played with grotesque self-conscious twitchiness by Christian Bale, serially unreliable and away with the crack fairies most of the time, is so scared of his mother that when she appears at the front door of his crack den he leaps out of the back window onto a pile of pre-prepared rubbish: a sequence somehow redolent of the whole film. However we are asked to believe twitchy Dicky is an absolutely indispensable, knowing boxing coach and trainer to younger brother Micky, the tribe’s latest gravy-train. With Momma Alice as manager, Micky is constantly getting conned into bad matches with the wrong opponents not even at the same weight. Gradually he gets wise and decides maybe he doesn’t want a lifetime career as the family meal ticket of Porky Beaver and co. He wants – you got it – “a shot at the title.” Ho hum. Cliche vue.

Both the ‘fighters’ in this family are emotional black holes: wimps before the combined might of Atilla the Mum and Micky’s new girl cocky Charlene (Amy Adams). Two brothers: the one too stupid to grow up, the other too weak to act for himself until his girlfriend kicks his butt.

A great deal of very, very loud shouting and swearing ensues, with wildly divergent acting styles: what one discerning critic has justly described as a pissing contest between the actors.

What of the boxing? Well I’m no boxer though I used to coach and train young people in a number of sports. The one Oscar nomination for this movie that is remotely justified is Pamela Martin for editing: she almost invests the exceptionally short boxing sequences with some degree of credibility. Almost – but not quite.

We see Dicky and Micky doing lots of fast hand and speedball exercises presumably designed to develop the ability to string fast combination punches together. There’s also a bit of impressive skipping one guesses might help with light, fast footwork. So what is the earth-shattering tactic with which Mighty Micky suddenly becomes a world-beater? Well he lets his opponents beat hell out of him for about 8 rounds until they are worn out, then he lands a couple of body punches and his opponent hits the deck. Not a single set of combination punches; absolutely no footwork, he just stands in one place, stuck on the ropes and lets the other guy hit him. Throughout this travesty – hardly a single jab in sight. Then this guy who we never see for one second working with a heavy bag to develop any weight of punch, lands one dubious kidney blow for which he should be disqualified and it’s a KO – whoosh – he’s the champ. Cobblers.

I don’t know whether the real Eklund/Wards are as abnoxious a bunch of people as Russell portrays them but if they are – what’s this film for? As portrayed this is no triumph of courage and determination over poverty and deprivation, it’s just a venal bunch of losers trying to make a buck. If there is a story here worth telling Mr Russell and Co haven’t troubled themselves to tell it. Part of the storyline has Dicky exploited by a TV film crew who he thinks are making a film about his boxing career but who are in fact doing a warts and all piece on the degradation of crack addiction. So Dicky is himself being exploited by film-makers within the film. Is it possible that Russell is taking the ironical piss out of his own subject and film?

There is also some ‘real’ video footage over the end credits of the real Dicky (I think it’s Dicky… it might be Micky: Micky, Dicky, let’s call the whole thing off) – who does seem as twitchy and unpredictable as Bale portrays him. One wonders whether this pointless footage is just there to validate Bale’s performance.

I suspect that if the Eklund/Wards are as portrayed, they will be wholly in support of the film – it probably makes a good payday now the fighting has stopped. If in fact they are being traduced by this stuff – then everyone concerned should be ashamed of themselves. Just because people will let you take advantage of them for a profit – doesn’t mean you should.

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