Even with slow-mo punching and a training montage, The Fighter is a knockout!

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I am surfacing, bleary eyed from a fortnight’s leave. Holidays are, of course, designed as an opportunity to recharge the batteries. Replenish the creative juices and escape from the grind for a few precious moments. The chance to give my eyes a rest from the glare of the silver screen for a few days seemed like a wonderful idea two weeks ago. But as I’m one of the lucky few with a job I love and really rather enjoy, perhaps the point of a holiday is rather lost on me.

In the period of time I’ve been away it’s become a brave new world out there. The box office top 10, usually a familiar stomping ground, has dipped below the ‘Here There Be Monsters!’ line on the map. Added to this it appears Hollywood has fallen out with the question mark, How Do You Know(?) obviously punctuation is too expense when you have Jack Nicholson and Reese Witherspoon on your payroll. Thankfully my spell checker has confirmed with a reassuring squiggly green line that there ought to be one there and I’m not losing my mind. Added to this, Tangled is apparently an entertaining Disney film not made by Pixar. I feel completely out of the loop. There is definitely something of the Rip Van Winkle about returning to work.

I digress – this week meant popping into the cinema during my leave to prepare for the coming weekend. The Fighter was up first to reawaken my scrutiny skills. Initially, I was approaching it with an ‘oil and water’ feeling. Christian Bale is at the top of his game right now and is always watchable. On the other hand, I still haven’t worked out whether I actually enjoyed I Heart Huckabees and I definitely haven’t forgiven Mark Wahlberg for putting 100 per cent more lumber into the last four performances I’ve seen him in (I’ll let you work out which ones). Plus, did I really need to sit through another triumph-over-adversity sports film?

The answer was actually, yes, I and a lot of people need this film in their life. The typical cliché trappings of a boxing film are there (training montage! slow motion punching!) but the real glue that kept me on my seat was the performances and the underlying themes. There’s a lot of mention of Bale’s weight loss for the film, but it is no more a prop than a fake beard. It is very impressive, but the man is after all playing a junkie, it would look out of place if he was cultivating a beer gut. What you quickly refocus on when you watch the film is his fantastic portrayal of a washed up talent, completely oblivious to the act of dragging his entire family into the toilet with him, his brother first.

The biggest surprise and delight of the film though goes to the artist formerly known as Markie Mark for putting in his most subtle and heart-felt performance since Boogie Nights. He is an exceptional downtrodden light to Bale’s grandstanding shade. They didn’t need to put Aerosmith or Led Zeppelin on the soundtrack to sweeten the deal, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

So from a film I wasn’t initially looking forward to, to one I was. Sanctum (in 3D if that lights your candle) looked like a thrilling prospect. A cave diving expedition gone wrong, claustrophobia and adventure abound with a smattering of broken bones and drowning no doubt. As it turned out, only Richard Roxburgh felt like putting any effort in with the rest of a threadbare script being shot out of a cannon especially whenever Ioan Gruffudd opened his gob. The occasional tension rich moments are popped like much needed oxygen bubbles by an overbearing score and ‘just one more bloody glow stick’.

As I exit the cinema blinking into the rising sun of this new frontier, I think I need a run to help me wake up. At times like these, only Eye of the Tiger on the iPod will do!