The Fighter and The King’s Speech

December 30, 2010 at 3:54 am (Movies and TV)

Every year I do a movie marathon with my Mom to get ready for awards season. I always look forward to it and always have fun, even when the films aren’t ones we particularly like. This year, we saw The King’s Speech, followed immediately afterward by The Fighter. These two films are similar in that they both present afflicted men who overcome certain obstacles to attain greatness. These two films are different in that I liked the former, but did not like the latter.

When we went in to the theater to see The Fighter, a lady was on her way out, wiping away tears, and telling us magnificent the film was. We can’t figure out why this lady was crying. There have, over the years, been examples of blue-collar people in the movies who are likable and who have a certain degree of dignity, if not class (think Rocky Balboa or Erin Brockovich or Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter). You will not meet anyone like them in The Fighter, which has the unusual distinction of having not one single character I liked, could sympathize with or root for, and it is difficult to like a film under those circumstances. As I had previously read, Christian Bale does completely dominate the film. I couldn’t decide whether this was the point, or whether they just allowed him too much power. Also, Oscar buzz aside, after headlines I’ve read, and certain audio clips I’ve heard, I’m not sure acting like a jerk is such a big stretch for Bale. Melissa Leo could very well deserve an award if she was able to make me hate her that much in two hours’ space.

In terms of filmic convention, I take no issue with The Fighter, other than, the soundtrack (which jumped between classic metal, 80’s music and Whitesnake) thoroughly confused me. I don’t understand how a film set in 1993 is so heavy on 70’s and 80’s music, though, if the alternative is Ace of Base and Ugly Kid Joe, maybe we’re better off. This will be a weird year at the Oscars for Darren Aronofsky, who directed Black Swan, but produced The Fighter. Hopefully only Black Swan will get nominated and the guy won’t have to risk mixing up speech papers in his pocket.

The bottom line about The Fighter is dysfunction. Can we ever really rise above dysfunction if we surround ourselves with the same people whose patterns have screwed us up? Perhaps  it depends on the individual. Several critics have compared this film to Rocky, and it isn’t even close. Both films are about small-town fighters becoming champions despite incredible odds. However, only Rocky is a guy you can feel for, can root for; and that’s really saying something when you consider that The Fighter is based on a true story. The film did no favors for the people involved, who ought to be pretty upset. I did not emerge with any further appreciation for boxing, or any feeling of enrichment for having seen this film.

In contrast, The King’s Speech is the movie I can picture an older woman coming out of, wiping away tears and proclaiming its excellence. Colin Firth is a master of masking deep emotion with British reservedness (see What A Girl Wants, Bridget Jones, Love Actually, pretty much anything he’s ever been in). Geoffrey Rush is a master of likable peculiarity (see Shakespeare in Love, Quills, Pirates of the Caribbean, pretty much anything he’s ever been in). Helena Bonham Carter (aka Mrs. Tim Burton) makes her first return to unquirky, normal British period biopics in quite a while, and comes across with grace, style and believability; this is hardly the Red Queen. The cast here turns out to be a better recipe than The Fighter‘s. The acting was, in itself, solid; I was also struck by the clever, heartfelt screenplay, and Alexander Desplat’s mesmerizing score.

Some films depict characters from throughout history at a defining moment. We don’t see what they went on to do, because we know it, historically. What we see is some crisis of conscience or confidence that leads to them becoming the person they had to be, to face their particular moment in history. That King George VI had to contend with the eruption of World War II, a new monarchy, and stuttering all at the same time was something I had not been previously aware of. I imagine that Queen Elizabeth will want to see this film, because it’s about her parents, and depicts her as a child; she is sure to approve. I felt not just that I had enjoyed the film, but had come out of it with more appreciation for history. That’s the difference, when you create characters who are accessible and able to be sympathized with.

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2 Comments

  1. sueh said,

    I’ll pass on The Fighter and try to see The King’s Speech.

  2. Bill Doebler said,

    Nice reviews Heidi. It’s a pleasure to read insightful and knowledgeable reviews!

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