Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter

Directed by David O. Russell
Screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
"Irish" Micky Ward - Mark Wahlberg
Dick "Dicky" Eklund - Christian Bale
Charlene Fleming - Amy Adams
Alice Ward - Melissa Leo

The Fighter is about a working-class boxer, Micky Ward, who is supposed to be an against-all-odds hero, yet yields his heroic role to his brother Dicky. Dicky's the one who opens and closes the film; he provides the main source of conflict; and he even takes over the climax. As Christian Bale, who plays the scene-stealing brother, pointed out in his Golden Globe acceptance speech, Micky is the stoic protagonist, who rarely undergoes emotional turmoil (although Bale dedicated his win to this quiet character Wahlberg plays). Except one scene where Micky expresses his resentment towards his mother Alice, most of the time he's stuck in the middle of the tug-of-war between the Alice-Dicky duo and his girlfriend Charlene.

While the film delivers emotional jabs in several tense scenes, these scenes mainly revolve around the three supporting characters. For instance, when Charlene and Dicky work out a deal hurling foul words at each other, all Micky does is to arrive near the end of the fight, get out of his car, and hold his girlfriend in his arms. Outside the ring, he doesn't really have angry outbursts, get his face distorted in agony or his voice choked with frustration. Even if he does show determination to win the world championship during his confrontation with Alice, he pales in comparison to the others, who visibly develop antagonistic relationships in a struggle to realize their lost dreams through Micky's success. Surely, Micky's stoic anchor allows his mother, brother, and lover to release their anger, grudges, and disappointment, but isn't that what supporting characters usually do?

Maybe I complain too much. Some would argue as long as a film evokes pathos, it doesn't matter where that pathos comes from. So Micky's lack of heroic qualities may not be as important as the emotional pull that, say, Dicky and Charlene's final cathartic fight or the very last match Micky fights exerts. From the beginning to the moment of victory, you might find yourself muttering, "Head, body, head, body." The final scene matching the opening one, and the story turns in between, are all predictable, but you can't help but feel gratified when the underdog roars in triumph. In addition, the intense feelings the film conveys are effectively balanced out by the lighthearted scenes dominated by Micky's father (Jack McGee) and boxing montages.

All in all, The Fighter is a film that grows on you the more you see it. The Alice-Dicky duo are the types of character you just can't hate, despite their shortcomings. Charlene is the one you sympathize with the most. Micky can be boring, yet you are still going to care about him. Yes, Dicky's more like a comeback hero than Micky is, but this biopic is without a doubt an engaging drama and you probably won't care which character tugs at your heartstrings.


Monday, January 10, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

The King's Speech

Directed by Tom Hooper

Screenplay by David Seidler


George VI/Albert -- Colin Firth

Lionel Logue -- Geoffrey Rush

Queen Elizabeth -- Helena Bonham Carter

King Edward VIII -- Guy Pearce

Myrtle Logue - Jennifer Ehle

It seems a futile attempt to make a nearly two-hour-long movie out of the life of a man with a stammer. Aside from the privileges that a monarch gains by birth, there is hardly anything to talk about King George VI's stuttering. In The King's Speech, however, Tom Hooper successfully creates vibrant drama about Albert ("Bertie"), an extremely shy monarch, and Lionel Logue, the king's speech therapist. While the film focuses on how Albert overcomes his physical obstacle and delivers his first wartime speech at the outset of World War II, it doesn't go into the details of the war, save for a brief montage of war footage. No conflict within the royal family, nor a battle over the throne. Then what is it that fills this seemingly lackluster story with vitality?

The central dynamic can be seen between Albert and Lionel whose relationship takes a dramatic turn. Here, the monarch who is supposed to give a faltering nation confidence seeks the Australian's help and his speech impediment places him in a vulnerable position. To Albert, Lionel is peculiar because of not only his unorthodox methods but also his demand for equality during their sessions. And what about the king's relationship with his people? The healing process becomes symbolic as the king's personal handicap translates into a whole nation's insecurities and as the successful delivery of his first wartime speech into the people's assurance of victory.

Adding further depth to this multifaceted narrative is Hooper's use of camera angles and compositions. Hooper deliberately exploits low- and wide-angle shots to make Albert's fear of public speaking appear far more severe. In the opening scene, all the emotionless, indistinct faces of the audience humiliate his stuttering Royal Highness; during his session with a therapist before Lionel, Albert seems overwhelmed by the therapist's intimating face shot from below; and soon after Albert's sudden ascension to the throne, he is surrounded by members of the government whose distorted image creates a stifling atmosphere. Also, an interesting contrast between Albert and Lionel is formed by the unconventional compositions in which Albert's unsureness speaks through the abstract background he sits against, whereas Lionel's cluttered office hints at his self-confidence.

When Albert's first wartime radio broadcast is finally heard worldwide, Lionel guides him as if to conduct a symphonic piece. Walking out of the broadcasting room, the king sees relief on people's faces. Despite a few alleged historical inaccuracies, such as the king's relationship with his brother, the movie offers a compelling drama centering on "Bertie" and the therapist's friendship. As well, combined with Colin Firth's meticulous performance, the extreme closeups of Albert's face when he stammers effectively convey his insecurities. Geoffrey Rush's enigmatic, but warmhearted, Lionel, and Helena Bonham Carter's supportive Queen Elizabeth make the film rich in character. The most impressive moment in The King's Speech comes as Albert and Lionel walk through the dense fog, which symbolizes the uncertainty of that time.