REVIEW ROUND-UP: ‘The Fighter’ Drops at AFI

Oscar watchers are now down to one question mark in the 2010 Oscar race after David O. Russell’s The Fighter had a sneak preview at the AFI Film Festival last night. The Paramount release about a rag to riches boxer was one of two potential Oscar films that no critics had seen along with the Coen brothers’ True Grit. Last night a packed house of critics and film enthusiasts screened the film at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at a previously unannounced sneak preview and initial reviews of the film are streaming in.

The Fighter is based on a true story set in the 1990s Boston area where Micky “Irish” Ward is attempting to create a boxing career under the management of his unreliable and crack-addicted brother, Dickey, and his relentless mother. Micky is fighting (pun unintended) to maintain a sense of family in the midst of dysfunction with his mother and brother and his ex-wife and estranged daughter. When he meets the voluptuous bartender Charlene, Micky is inspired with a new sense of purpose and manages to find his own success in boxing.

THE REVIEWS

The first word comes in from Gregory Ellwood of HitFix who devotes his entire piece to singing the praises of supporting actress Amy Adams. Ellwood says the film is full of “showy” performances that Oscar will love, but the real star is Amy Adams who manages to stay grounded amidst a lot of over-performing:

But, in a film full of colorful if not close to over-the-top characters (Alice and Dickie in particular), it’s Adams grounded and realistic Charlene that keeps the film from going dramatically off the rails.

It seems that unanimous acting support seems to be behind Christian Bale who plays Mickey’s brother, Dickey. Bale finally gets a role in a movie that the Academy is going to be paying attention to and a part that allows him to do a lot of scenery chewing. Almost every review calls him a Best Supporting Actor lock, something we already suspected, including Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood:

Bale risks going too far with his druggie extrovert, but he slowly wins us over. He seems to excel when he’s dieted and sweated out every ounce of fat on his frame. He should land a supporting nomination; it would be his first.

Apart from the performances, the praise for the film could mostly be considered soft. Kris Tapley of In Contention says that the film is a definite crowd-pleaser in the same vein as Secretariat. However, Tapley wasn’t overwhelmingly fond of the film saying that it occasionally borders on “camp”. He does admire much of the technical elements of the film, however:

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 editor 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.

Adding to the small group of critics who do not believe the film lived up to the hype is Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter. He admires the film’s overall message and Wahlberg’s persistence to get it released, but says that overall it fails to deliver:

There is something a little too cartoonish about Micky’s completely impossible family and also something a little too short-sighted in a protagonist who can’t see the obvious — that his family, and not other fighters, is what stands in his way as a boxer.

Jeff Sneider of The Wrap writes a long summary that basically summarizes the movie and the audience reactions to it. He also takes a brief paragraph to discuss Russell’s treatment of the boxing matches and says that it is nothing remarkable, but definitely unique:

Speaking of those, you’re probably wondering how Russell handles the action between the ropes. Well, his work in the ring doesn’t begin to rival Martin Scorsese’s in “Raging Bull,” or even Ron Howard’s in “Cinderella Man,” but it is nonetheless unique and effective as a result of the director’s decision to shoot the fights on video, a much more intimate format that makes the audience feel as if they’re sitting ringside right next to Dickie’s arch-nemesis Sugar Ray Robinson.

More reviews will be coming tonight as the film officially screens again at the AFI Film Festival.

THE OSCARS

So what do these reactions mean for the film’s Oscar chances? As I always try to make clear, initial critical response is in no way the “be all, end all” when it comes to a film’s Awards potential. However, it does give some perspective on a movie where there was previously none.

It sounds like the one guaranteed lock that has emerged from the screening of The Fighter is that Christian Bale will be receiving a Best Supporting Actor nomination. It was obvious from the trailer that he has a showy, attention-grabbing performance and from the reviews it sounds like he nails it. Bale’s character is addicted to drugs and is emotionally tortured, which should earn him some extra points from the Academy. My excitement to see the film has just increased with the reviews on Bale’s performance.

The other Oscar lock appears to be Melissa Leo for a Best Supporting Actress nomination. This year has been particularly shallow in the Best Supporting Actress race leading many to speculate that Amy Adams could also sneak in to the race, making it two nominations for this film. That would be the second time that happened in two years after Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick got in for Up in the Air.

Mark Wahlberg probably won’t fit in to the already packed Best Actor race and David O. Russell might be a stretch for Best Director as most seem to agree the film is a huge departure from his usual style. Also, it has been pointed out that the fiery director is not well-liked among the actors branch, the largest voting bloc of the Academy.

As for Best Picture, at this point I am going to put The Fighter in the “yes” category. It probably can not compete with The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, or The Social Network, but as long as the crowds and critics maintain this enthusiasm it should safely fit into one of the 6 through 10 spots.

What are your thoughts on the initial response to The Fighter? How do these reviews affect your excitement to see the movie?

The Fighter will be released in the U.S on December 10, 2010.

[Images: Beyond Hollywood]

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  • Jose

    To me it still looks like an average film so after this initial reviews I’m still not that excited to see this film.

  • Oscar-wise

    Possible Best Pic nod (if the show fits)
    Nominee for Leo and Adams, it’s still a bizarre category to predict.
    Nominee for Bale, Possible Win, it’ll come down to him vs. Rush.
    Then it looks like possible cinematography, editing, and art direction.

  • It’s in for Best Picture, this was my early, early call. It’s not a huge player, but I can’t see it missing. I see three supporting nominations to go with it. But it is the screenplay and director slots that are a big question mark for me…

  • A lot of people have been predicting ‘The Fighter’ from the start, but I’m still hesitant to put it on my Best Picture chart. I just feel like with a year as good as this there will be no room for “pretty good” movies. I think when ‘True Grit’ gets released the buzz on ‘The Fighter is going to decline fast. That doesn’t mean it won’t score some acting nods. It might be this year’s ‘Invictus’.

  • I know you love Fair Game, but do you think it has better Oscar odds than this? That seems like merely a well-liked film to me.

  • I think Amy Adams will win the Oscar for Supp actress. She’s likable, pretty going gritty, and would be 3rd nomination. You heard it here first.

  • You may be right, Murtada, the category is incredibly weak. But Helena Bonham Carter in what might be this years power-play… I don’t know if she can beat that.

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