In Contention

AFI FEST: ‘The Fighter’ crashes the party

Posted by · 3:29 am · November 10th, 2010

I decided to come home and give “The Fighter,” which saw its world premiere at a “secret screening” at AFI Fest tonight, some real thought rather than rushing back to review.  How novel.

Given the amount of press on hand, one imagines Paramount publicity was besieged with ticket requests following the last minute announcement of the screening yesterday morning, but the film played well to a largely public audience. And by “well” I mean they were kind of swinging from the rafters, as David O. Russell’s film is a mainstream crowd-pleaser through and through.

There is much to admire about the film. For starters, there’s a unique energy that’s palpable throughout, owed largely to the camera work of DP Hoyte Van Hoytema and, especially, film editing from Pamela Martin. The fights were filmed in a retro early-90s video vein, duplicating the original HBO telecasts of “Irish” Micky Ward’s matches, and they have an energy that crackles. There is the sense of sterile choreography here and there, but for the most part, these scenes are quite uplifting and stand out against the usual boxing sequences we’ve seen over the years.

Performance-wise, Mark Wahlberg (who nurtured this project for a number of years) is capable if properly unremarkable in the somewhat reserved role of Ward. Melissa Leo, meanwhile, gets the showy role as mother to Ward and his brother/trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), and for the most part, she nails it. There are, however, a number of moments that dip into camp as it pertains to her character and Ward’s family situation, and this often took me out of the film early on.

Amy Adams offers a tough performance of steel-eyed sincerity that is probably my favorite of the two supporting actress portrayals, but nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say both have clear shots at nominations.

The star of the show, however, might well walk away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year. Christian Bale is mercilessly precise, committed and authentic as Ward’s crack-addicted half-brother, Dickie Eklund, a former next-big-thing boxer who blew his chances and lives life vicariously through Ward. The film mostly concerns itself with that sibling relationship and finds its most profound notes of grace therein, and Bale is really something to behold throughout.

I’d say we’re looking at a solid contender for a Best Picture nomination. The film played like gangbusters and I’ve heard from numerous critical minds responding likewise, so erase all doubt. “The Fighter” is here to play, and what a coup for Paramount to have this dual reveal to the populace and industry alike.  It was smart to eschew the typical festival strategy.  This is a film meant to hit and hit big.

A few other reactions:

Anne Thompson at Thompson on Hollywood

Gregory Ellwood at Awards Campaign

Pete Hammond at Deadline

[Photo: Paramount Pictures]

→ 51 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

51 responses so far

  • 1 11-10-2010 at 3:56 am

    Alex said...

    The problem with Christian Bale is that when the first on-set photos were released, people were already calling for him to be given a pre-emptive Oscar. It seems like he is trying too hard if that makes sense.

    I haven’t seen The Fighter so naturally I can’t comment on his performance (I have only seen the trailer). I much prefer Mark Ruffalo for his extremely deft performance in The Kids are All Right. He is overdue for a nomination and is great at acting without ‘acting’.

  • 2 11-10-2010 at 4:01 am

    amanda said...

    I’m glad this played so well, but I really happy to hear about Adams. Let’s hope she gets a nomination.

  • 3 11-10-2010 at 4:09 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “It seems like he is trying too hard if that makes sense.”

    Maybe he’s not trying too hard, but the people making these pre-emptive calls are?

  • 4 11-10-2010 at 4:12 am

    Graysmith said...

    Good to hear that it’s a solid movie, especially since the trailers were kind of bland.

    And maybe now we’ll finally have a proper fight for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar! Before this definitive word it really seemed like it was Geoffrey Rush and none of the others (that had been seen) really seemed to stand a chance. And in Bale’s favour is obviously that Rush is already a winner.

  • 5 11-10-2010 at 4:20 am

    Zack said...

    So the era of Best Supporting Actor only being given to people who are playing murderers is drawing to a close? Bummer.

  • 6 11-10-2010 at 4:54 am

    Loyal said...

    The Dark Knight Rises will now star 3 Oscar winners.

    Caine, Freeman, and Bale.

  • 7 11-10-2010 at 5:00 am

    JFK said...

    Yup, had a feeling about Amy Adams. Glad the film didn’t go down in flames.

  • 8 11-10-2010 at 5:14 am

    Michael said...

    Movies like this feel like a lot of work to enjoy. They are easy to admire b/c the work put into them is impressive in most cases, but they are not always made with a genuine passion. I will definitely be seeing it b/c the talent involved is just too incredible, but I can’t help but feel that this is a slightly more sincere “packaged” film along the lines of Secretariat and Conviction. Oscar bait type films impress everyone at first but they don’t really have a long shelf-life. I am going to reserve my judgement until I see the film but going into it I already have reservations and the reviews, while generally positive, have done nothing to offset my feelings that this is nothing more than a satisfying mainstream gangbusting film made to make some moolah (which there is nothing wrong with that but when it is obvious that is the intention it is hard to appreciate the film on a deeper level.)

  • 9 11-10-2010 at 5:23 am

    Loyal said...

    Michael, you missed the part where Wahlberg as producer tried to get the film made for a number of years, losing Darren Aronofsky along the way. It’s the epitome of a passion project.

  • 10 11-10-2010 at 5:37 am

    Duncan Houst said...

    I refuse to believe it until I see it. I’m sure it will get consideration in the acting categories, minus Wahlberg, but I still can’t see it as a Best Picture endeavor.

  • 11 11-10-2010 at 6:00 am

    JJ1 said...

    As much as I LOVE Melissa Leo, I still believe that Amy Adams would get the nom because of everything Kris & Anne wrote. It’s just a feeling.

  • 12 11-10-2010 at 6:08 am

    JJ1 said...

    Kris, if it comes down to it, which film would make the 10 as battle of the mainstreams: The Town or The Fighter?

  • 13 11-10-2010 at 6:22 am

    Roy said...

    Kris, not so much asking how you think the Academy would/will vote, but in terms of supporting performances, would you personally go for Bale here, or Harris in the Way Back, if you were voting?

  • 14 11-10-2010 at 6:25 am

    red_wine said...

    Andrew Dignan tweets: “The Fighter (10 Russell B-) Ungainly and broadly executed (at times it plays like a white trash version of Precious)”

    Hmm. If it’s like Precious, the Academy will eat it up and I’l dislike it. Hope that’s not the case.

  • 15 11-10-2010 at 6:33 am

    Zack said...

    I thought “Winter’s Bone” was the white-trash
    (Although I gotta say, not a huge fan of reviews that can’t assess a movie without using some other movie people have already seen as a frame of reference.)

  • 16 11-10-2010 at 6:43 am

    Michael said...

    @Loyal – I didn’t miss that part about Wahlberg’s involvement but the reaction from the reviews (and the indication from the trailers) shows that whatever passion was instilled with getting the film actually made has not translated into anything more than a mainstream movie made to play well to a crowd. I obviously haven’t seen it yet and will be there opening day but I don’t expect to see a game-changing mind-bending work of art that will be talked about and remembered for years to come. Instead I am going into this film to be (hopefully) entertained, and as I previously mentioned – there is nothing wrong with that. If it gets nominated for awards (which is likely based on the early buzz) then so be it.

  • 17 11-10-2010 at 6:51 am

    JJ1 said...

    I don’t know. I’m just getting a vibe that this movie may not be for me. If it’s well done, then great (for it). I don’t doubt some of the good performances, or the fact that it may be something of a mainstream hit. But everything I’ve heard, read, specific anecdotes and reactions (etc.) give me pause.

  • 18 11-10-2010 at 6:55 am

    Lance said...

    Imagine if Amy Adams gets another nomination. That would be three since 2005. Wow! She’s already getting into a category with some heavy weight actors…or maybe she’ll be another Glen Close.

  • 19 11-10-2010 at 7:03 am

    Dignan said...

    Oof, this is the trouble w/ quoting twitter reactions. Just for clarity’s sake, my entire tweet (spread out over two posts was):

    The Fighter (10 Russell B-) Ungainly and broadly executed (at times it plays like a white trash version of Precious) but DOR is 3/3 at…

    Fighter (cont’d) coaxing vulnerable, sympathetic performances out of Wahlberg. Plus I am weirdly susceptible to Amy Adams’ muffin top.

    Now… putting aside my probably in poor taste, late night appreciation of Ms. Adams going for a more naturalistic Lowell bar maid physique…

    …What I’m saying is echoed somewhat in Kris and Anne’s reviews. It’s a peculiar film with odd rhythms that is often played quite LARGE particularly in all the scenes w/ Leo and Wahlberg’s seven screeching sisters. Perhaps the more appropriate comparison is with those really cringe-worthy scenes w/ Swank’s family in Million Dollar Baby as it never plays as a capital T tragedy the way Precious did. Blame the 140 character limit for not refining this point further.

    Others may be able to overlook these scenes. Fine. It’s by no means a bad film and I prefer this odd little film (which really does feel more like a scrappy indie film circa 1996) to something like Cinderella Man which bathed everything in a warm safe glow of loving sentiment. I’m not sure it’s instantly identifiable as a “David O. Russell film” but it has a lot of personality and is very playful, getting a lot of mileage out of the neighborhoods and communities it was shot in.

    I do think Kris is overstating the reaction from the crowd somewhat but it did play well, with a smattering of applause during Adams’ “you go girl moment” where she gets to stand up for herself and a respectful but not sustained ovation at the end.

    I’m sure it’ll do fine come nomination time.

  • 20 11-10-2010 at 8:05 am

    Keil Shults said...

    I was probably going to see it and now I’ll definitely make time for it. Hopefully Bale is indeed as good as I’ve been reading. I’ve liked him since Empire of the Sun, despite his recent on-set blow-up and the occasionally grating voice he uses when playing Batman.

  • 21 11-10-2010 at 8:06 am

    Alex (in Movieland) said...

    yay yay yay! :)
    i’m happy it will succeed.

    but the Best Director category is getting crazy crowded right now, especially compared to last year!
    I almost want True Grit to fail a bit, just to get a bit of freshness outthere!

  • 22 11-10-2010 at 8:17 am

    Keil Shults said...


  • 23 11-10-2010 at 8:39 am

    red_wine said...

    Sorry Mr. Dignan. I didn’t know there were 3 tweets. I just saw that one tweet and quoted it (out of context it now seems). Twitter honestly doesn’t give you the full impression of what the writer thinks.

    I don’t think Winter’s Bone is the white-trash Precious mainly because Winter’s Bone is defiantly low-key and underplayed (save for a couple of scenes) whereas Precious was hysterical and lurid. Winter’s Bone is also the better made film.

  • 24 11-10-2010 at 8:54 am

    Ivan said...

    The Fighter will be this year Dreamgirls. I only see recognition for Bale.

  • 25 11-10-2010 at 8:57 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    How is it this year’s Dreamgirls? I see nobody breathlessly hyping it up as the film to beat.

  • 26 11-10-2010 at 9:27 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Team Bale.

  • 27 11-10-2010 at 9:40 am

    James said...

    Hmmm. Gotta see this film for myself. Since everyone’s saying its a general crowd pleaser, I’m not sure if that means its an uplifting Rocky story, or it was just really good and audiences responded to it. That first trailer was bland, but the second was more interesting and unnerving, showcasing more of a authentic character drama where Micky is getting pull alonged from all sides. Regardless, so far so good.

  • 28 11-10-2010 at 9:41 am

    Maxim said...

    This may seem like a silly question but, to those who have seen it, how does “The Fighter” compare to “The Wrestler”. I’m talking overall impact, performances and lasting appeal.

  • 29 11-10-2010 at 10:02 am

    Alex in Movieland said...

    I am looking at Little Women yet again for my blog… and wow… even the 3rd time, Christian Bale’s acting seems just awful awful awful :)) it’s like a different person all around.

  • 30 11-10-2010 at 10:22 am

    B.D.. said...

    “Swinging from the rafters?” I’m surprised by your hyperbole. I was at the screening last night and I didn’t think it played so amazingly to the audience. I think they enjoyed it overall and there was some big laughter in places, but mostly they were polite.

  • 31 11-10-2010 at 10:22 am

    Ivan said...

    “How is it this year’s Dreamgirls? I see nobody breathlessly hyping it up as the film to beat.”

    Maybe The Fighter lacks of frontrunner status but many voices are praising it the same as Bill Condon´s flick in 2006.

  • 32 11-10-2010 at 10:27 am

    Jordan Cronk said...

    This movie is a complete yawn, but that was to be expected. Unless audiences turn out in droves (which certainly could happen– you’re right about one thing Tapley, the audience ate it up), I don’t see much in the way of recognition beyond Bale. Critics certainly aren’t going to back this thing. I’m thinking it’ll be up to the box office.

  • 33 11-10-2010 at 11:25 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Is there enough time to add a scene at the end where Wahlberg is put into a vegetative state and a tear-streaked Bale pulls the plug on him?

  • 34 11-10-2010 at 12:05 pm

    Collin said...

    Agree with EVERYTHING Dignan said. Crowd reax totally overstated.

  • 35 11-10-2010 at 12:21 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I don’t think it’s overstated at all, and I think you’ll find others agree with me. That said, we’re always susceptible to our surroundings, and while there was clearly applause throughout the theater at key moments during the film (this is not arguable), I was dead center in the theater, right behind Duvall, and that area was pretty energetic, especially at the end.

  • 36 11-10-2010 at 1:41 pm

    tony rock said...

    People are doubting its chances because they haven’t seen it yet. Or they simply can’t bring themselves to support it because it’s a “boxing movie.” Either way, doesn’t matter. The Fighter doesn’t need ecstatic reviews or boffo box office to be nominated. As long as it’s above 70% on Rottentomatoes (not a hard feat) and makes over 50 mil at the box office, it’s a lock for a Best Pic nomination.

  • 37 11-10-2010 at 2:23 pm

    Silly Wabbit said...

    I was there last night and the crowd loved this film. Why doesnt everybody just simmer down and wait for the film to be released. People are going eat it up. I have little doubt that Academy members wont respond to the fantastic performances and a good story that appeals to both men and women. I’m a woman and was completely caught up in the relationships between brother and brother, brother and mother, brother and girlfriend and those SISTERS! HOLY MOLY THEY WERE GREAT!

  • 38 11-10-2010 at 2:30 pm

    Derek 8-Track said...

    i like to imagine the Academy scratching their heads asking themselves “do we really need another boxing movie to win best picture?”

  • 39 11-10-2010 at 3:18 pm

    tony rock said...

    That’s why The Fighter won’t win Best Picture. Doesn’t mean it won’t be nominated.

  • 40 11-10-2010 at 4:25 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Both Variety and THR have published their reviews and they both seem pretty lukewarm/negative about it:

    “You never feel close enough to the action, either in the ring or in the kitchens, living rooms and tough streets where the story takes place. The characters engage you up to a point but never really pull you in.” – THR

    “What’s missing are stakes and soul, with the director’s attention split between working-class elegy and white-trash caricature, but missing the big picture.” – Variety

  • 41 11-10-2010 at 6:23 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    If Amy Adams wins BSA she’s done. The Oscar is best served by going to Leo or someone else. Since Adams has the Joplin project coming up her opportunity to become a Best Actress contender and possible winner is set.

    Since O Russell gets the best out of Mark I wonder how this performance compares to Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees.

  • 42 11-10-2010 at 8:40 pm

    MovieMan said...

    I can’t wait to see this one. Big fan of “Three Kings” and “I <3 Huckabees."

  • 43 11-11-2010 at 4:52 am

    mark said...

    i have though all year amy adams would win the traditional bsa oscar for supportive girlfriend or wife,leo has a shot but with no front runner adams is it!!!

  • 44 11-11-2010 at 5:50 am

    JJ1 said...

    I would agree ^. With so many foreign contenders, if Adams is nominated and she’s the only American nominated (or even IF Leo and Weist are also nominated) … I see a Marisa Tomei-like win (hot, young, liked in the industry, popular film, supportive girlfriend role – as mentioned). It ticks all the boxes.

  • 45 12-15-2010 at 10:28 am

    rac said...

    melissa should win d oscar… She was snubbd 4 frozen river by kate ‘popular’ winslet and may b dis time also amy ‘popular’ adams do d trick…