You can probably tell, it's awards season for the movies, and as usual I'm receiving some DVDs in the mail for my "consideration" as a voting member of a few film guilds. Not as many as usual though, which I'm not sure is a result of the weak economy or the fact that actually fewer movies were made last year than in recent years.
I already have some favorites that came out earlier in the year, and will maybe get up enough discipline to make a list of my 2010 favorites, after I get through all the discs I've been sent.
The most recent I watched was THE FIGHTER, a film that's getting mixed responses. It's on some critics top ten lists, or runners up to the top ten, and missing from others. But most critics are at least raving about the acting. And they're right to.
As you may already know, this is based on a true story, about two boxing brothers, or half brothers I should say, from Lowell, Mass. (where Jack Kerouac came from and wrote uniquely about) before it began getting gentrified (to the extent it has).
Mark Wahlberg plays what you would assume is the title role, except that almost every character in the movie is in one way or another a "fighter"—and as almost always with Wahlberg, he gives a solid performance. Since it's the kind of background he knows firsthand, it could have been a grandstanding self-promoting performance, hitting all the "realistic" beats on the nose, but, in execution, it's one of his more restrained portrayals, which in the end makes it even more powerful.
But there are so many scene-stealing performances in this film, Wahlberg's almost gets lost. Christian Bale has been getting most of the attention, and deserves it. Watch his performance as Dickie Ekland— "The Pride of Lowell"—and then compare it to the real Ekland, who has a cameo in the end credits, or check him out on YouTube boxing, especially the clip of his famous bout with Sugar Ray Leonard.
Bale becomes the man. He lost weight for the role, not anywhere near as distracting as I found DiNiro's weight gain for RAGING BULL (a transformation seen as revolutionary at the time, and now seems commonplace for many actors). In fact, Bale so embodies Dickie Ekland's physical mannerisms and loosey-goosey boxing style and physical persona, it's almost magical.
I found some of the "crack addict" bits not as accurate as those in the know tell me it could have been, but Bale's performance is so good it's hard for me to believe that any other actor this year can beat him in the Best Supporting Actor category.
But his isn't the only best supporting role, Melissa Leo as Bale's and Wahlberg's characters' mother "Alice" is a revelation. It's hard to even recognize her in the role. Being very familiar with tough working-class ladies of her kind, she nails it. As does Amy Adams in the role of Wahberg's character's girlfriend. I don't find Adams always appealing, but there's no denying her acting chops, and they're on full display in THE FIGHTER.
There are a lot more great performances in this flick, including the familiar Jack McGee as "Alice's" husband. But the performance that struck me as closest to the kind of Irish-Americans I grew up around was an actor I didn't know, Mickey O'Keefe, because he's not an actor, but a Lowell cop who trained "Irish" Mickey Ward (Wahlberg's character) in real life.
He's older than he was when the real training was going on, and he's shorter and seemingly milder than most of the men in my clan, but his presence and the solidity of his performance reminded me of many of my relatives, and I was delighted to discover he's the real deal. There's a scene in an eatery where he asks his fellow diners "What are you all looking at?" that is played so perfectly, every actor who ever plays a cop in the future should study it. It's understated, and yet totally grounded in the real power of knowing who you are and what you can do with that.
The director, David O. Russell, deserves credit obviously since there isn't a false acting beat in the entire film, for me. Check it out when you get the chance.