Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Fighter

Audiences want nothing more than to identify with the protagonist of a film. But when Mickey Ward gets ignored by his mother, girlfriend, older half-brother, and seven-loudmouthed sisters, the viewer simply follows suit and does the same.

David O. Russell's The Fighter tells the true story of boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who spends his entire career in the shadow of his older brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), the proclaimed "pride of Lowell, Massachusetts." The height of Eklund's career came from a 10 round bout in which he knocked over Sugar Ray Leonard. However, Dickie fell hard and became addicted to crack to become the character in this story: a failed version of what Mickey hopes to become.

Mickey is subjected to a series of bad losses, thanks in part to the "management" of both his brother and mother (Melissa Leo), who see Mickey fighting as a way to supply cash for the family while Dickie bides his time for his supposed comeback. Then Mickey falls for a sexy and tough bartender by the name of Charlene (Amy Adams). This new girlfriend helps to be the voice of the audience, yelling at Mickey to shed the unneeded baggage that is brought on by his current entourage.

The story may be about the fighting career of Mickey Ward, but that certainly doesn't seem that Mickey is the one making the decisions. When he goes into an obviously mismatched bout, his family persuades him to follow through despite the inevitable defeat. When Mickey receives the opportunity to train in Las Vegas professionally, Charlene all but forces him to take the offer. Even when the film reaches the inevitable showdown of Girlfriend v. Family, Mickey simply says, "I'll go with both," because it pleases everybody. Mickey Ward allows himself to be pushed into decisions by those around him and because of that, it is hard to take him seriously.

The real shining light of the film is from the supporting cast, which is evident from the Oscar nominations received by this ensemble. Christian Bale, who has been bolstering his résumé with characters like Batman and John Conner, underwent the transformation of a career. His portrayal of the crack-addled Dickie was perfect and is Oscar-worthy. Both Leo and Adams locked in stellar performances as well, representing the two sides of Mickey's feelings and straining to help give a one-dimensional character a little more depth.

The fight scenes were filmed from the view of a spectator, ringside and at home on television. However, since it is Mickey's career that the film revolves around, the viewer will find it hard to become drawn into the fights since there is no emotional involvement with the fighter himself. Of course, there is the expectation of Mickey to win. But without the connection to the fighter that feeling of exaltation that should be there is replaced with nothing more than a banal ending to the movie.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Black Swan

Black Swan is not your typical dance movie. The audience in not presented with the beauty and grace of a ballerina as she performs on stage. Instead, director Darren Aronofsky thrusts the viewer into the tormented psychosis of the dancer as she loses herself, and her mind, as she transforms into her character.

To understand the storyline of Black Swan, it is imperative to be familiar with the classic Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake. The premise is simple enough; a beautiful girl is transformed into a swan and only true love's kiss will set her free. But her lustful and jealous sister, the Black Swan, swoops in and seduces the prince who would have broken the spell for the White Swan. The White Swan, seized with grief, tragically ends her own life and ultimately finds freedom in her death.

The plot for Black Swan parallels that of the classic ballet. Beautiful Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has been selected as the new prima ballerina for her company after the incumbant Beth (Winona Ryder) had been gracefully forced out due to age. Nina is regarded as the most technically sound dancer within the company and is regarded as the perfect dancer to represent the White Swan. But the company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) needs the lead to play both the White and the Black Swans. Nina simply dances with precision, not emotion, and needs to lose herself in order to portray the Black Swan. This proves easier said than done, thanks to the tumultuous relationship between Nina and her mother (Barbara Hershey). A former dancer herself, Ms. Sayers shielded her daughter from every distraction in order to essentially create a perfect ballerina.

The film is predictable, as most dance films tend to be. Tension between Nina and Thomas gives way to the arrival of a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), making the threat of replacement all too real. Lily embodies everything that Nina is not, which adds to the imminent crisis building inside the head of the White Swan. The rivalry between the two dancers morphs into a twisted friendship of sorts, which aides Nina in abandoning the oppression laid upon her by her mother. As Lily represents the anti-Nina, their relationship opens the door for Nina to get in touch with her dark side and transform into the Black Swan.

Black Swan displays flashes of Aronofsky's previous work The Wrester, in which the main character immerses themselves in the perfection of their craft so recklessly that their lives ultimately end in ruin. As with The Wrestler, Aronofsky's over-the-shoulder, shaky camera work is able to put the audience inside a tormented psyche to truly experience what the characters are experiencing. The audience is also subjected to a dance along the line that separates reality from the subconscious so that when the film is reaching its climax, the line is so blurred that it becomes difficult to deduce what the truth is.

As with many classical ballet's, Black Swan, is summed up in a dramatic third act. The juxtaposition of dreams and reality, as well as the parallels between the film and the ballet, conclude in one dynamic whirlwind of passion. Much like the White Swan, Nina finds herself trapped within a prison, desperately fighting to free herself. Tragically, it is suggested that there is only one way to escape, one way to become free, one way to reach ultimate perfection. It would be unwise to question exactly what happens. To do so would simply blur the line between dream and reality even further.