Tuesday, January 18, 2011
3:36 AM |
The Monsters We Love
It's rare to find a film where the heart is in the cast of supporting characters and not the lead. But that's exactly what you will find in David O. Russell's boxing drama The Fighter
. This is not to begrudge the talent of Mark Wahlberg who has shown us before that he has the acting chops to carry a picture. He was gloriously cocky in Paul Thomas Anderson's porn epic Boogie Nights
, and scintillatingly angry in Martin Scorsese's The Departed
. His boxer (named Mickey) in Russell's film is of a placid sort, but it provides the necessary blank slate for his character: a man whose life is in control of others around him. And the "others" of course are tornados: there's Amy Adam's feisty girlfriend, Christian Bale's crackhead coach brother, and most of all, Melissa Leo's monstrously controlling mother whose acridity is symbolized by the stiff immovability of her hairdo.
They all want to have the biggest say in Mickey's career choices, and for so long he has followed the harebrained maneuverings of his mother who acts as his manager, and suffers the shenanigans of his unprofessional brother -- who is a boxing genius, a one-time local legend (he reputedly once TKO'd Sugar Ray Leonard), if only he could get away from crack. Disasters follow one after the other, until he gets a forced enlightenment, courtesy of a girl who calls a spade a spade, and sees that Mickey's greatest liability as a boxer is his toxic family. And so now this is the real boxing story of the film: not the fights in the ring, although that's fairly represented, but in the arduous decision of our indecisive hero -- who do you follow? your family who seems blindly bent on your ruin? or other people?
Mr. Bale is a force to be reckoned with in this film, and it might as well be his as a lead role and not Mr. Wahlberg's. His Dicky, in fact, is a co-lead more than anything else. He does his usual physical stunt of thinning himself for a role again -- a yo-yo-ing weight manipulation he has already done numerous times, such as in Brad Anderson's chilling The Machinist
, Mary Harron's murderous 80s satire American Psycho
, Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn
, as well as in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Ms. Adams turns in a performance that defy with delicious wildness the other landmark roles in her resume -- a Disney princess, a doubting nun, a food blogger, a Southern chatterbug. But it is Ms. Leo's mother with whom the screen almost staggers with such malevolent power. She is the undisputed queen of a family that is scary in that loutish, white-trash kind of way. Her monster mom makes me shiver, because I know people just like her: people who are strangely invested in cultivating the failure of people who love them. I cringed in every scene that she was in. To have that kind of screen presence, you had to hand it to Ms. Leo's acting prowess, last glimpsed in Courtney Hunt's powerful Frozen River
, for which she was nominated for Best Actress in the Oscars. But how we loath her character. And how wonderful that is.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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