Monday, December 20, 2010

"The Fighter" v. "The King's Speech": TKO

At first glance, “The King’s Speech” and “The Fighter” seem to have little in common other than their rising Oscar buzz. One is about a British king who must overcome a bad stammer, and the crippling fear of public speaking it’s produced, to rally his country as it enters WWII; the other centers on a hardscrabble boxer from Lowell, MA, who needs to assert independence from his controlling, destructively dysfunctional family to have a chance at reviving his sputtering career. Milieu, tone, and subject matter couldn’t be more different.

Yet there are some basic similarities between the two films that, not surprisingly, are also closely linked to their Oscar prospects. Both are based on true stories with triumphant, upbeat endings. Neither takes any narrative or stylistic liberties or subverts any expectations; what you see is pretty much what you get. And for both, the chief strength is the outstanding acting, with one performance in particular generating the most heat in each film, even though each at its heart is about a relationship between two men.

So why, then, does one movie succeed where the other fails? Or put another way, since this is essentially a subjective inquiry, why did “The Fighter” genuinely move me while “The King’s Speech” left me cold?

That’s something I’m still figuring out. I think it’s got something to do with the direction and/or pacing—“The Fighter” is so fluid and kinetic, it sucks you right in, even though you know exactly where it’s going, whereas TKS more or less plods from one scene to the next, such that every scene feels like a set piece. I might also be responding differently to the dynamic among the actors – again, a question of fluidity: “The Fighter” cast feels more like a true ensemble, whereas TKS is really Colin Firth’s star turn, set off by carefully-measured interactions with supporting players. Nothing wrong with that, exactly; “The Fighter” just feels more organic. And whether it’s the writing or the acting or both, I found the relationships in “The Fighter” more compellingly drawn than in TKS. Maybe, at bottom, I just can’t be brought to care that much about the House of Windsor.

I will ponder this further; in the meantime, here are my initial grades:


directed by Tom Hooper
starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham-Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon

GRADE: B (Colin Firth: A; Guy Pearce: A-; rest of cast: B+)


directed by David O. Russell
starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams


Full reviews coming soon-ish.


Blogger LVJeff said...

That is really funny. I had the exact opposite reaction. I really enjoyed THE KING'S SPEECH but wasn't too taken in with THE FIGHTER. I did recognize, though, that they are pretty much the same movie as far as blueprints go, so to be fair I may have to give them the same grade.

11:42 PM  
Blogger lylee2 said...

Heh. You are obviously a much fairer grader than I am.

It's sort of telling, I think, that of the two friends I went to see THE KING'S SPEECH with, one absolutely loved it and one was completely unimpressed, whereas I was sort of in the middle but definitely felt let down.

Perhaps I'm more critical of period-piece toney Brit films because I've seen so many more of them than I have boxing pictures. I mean, I've never even seen (small ashamed voice) ROCKY or RAGING BULL. I know the formula, but there's a difference between knowing it and seeing it executed.

10:10 PM  
Blogger LVJeff said...

You may want to leave RAGING BULL out of the conversation of formula boxing movies. In fact, if I were to name the best example of a boxing movie that breaks (crushes? totally ignores?) the stereotype, it would be RAGING BULL. When I think of typical boxing movies, I think any ROCKY and CINDERELLA MAN (MILLION DOLLAR BABY takes a detour, and ALI kind of follows a parallel side path). The ROCKY movies, though, have all milked the thing into a fine art :-) And THE FIGHTER is almost practically a ROCKY movie, but it claims to have more realistic boxing scenes, and it has better acting.

10:39 PM  
Blogger lylee2 said...

Oh, I didn't mean at all to suggest that RAGING BULL fell in the same category as ROCKY. That was a careless segue. But I take your point that ROCKY set the template for most other, lesser boxing movies, including THE FIGHTER.

I do think THE FIGHTER is superior to CINDERELLA MAN, but not MILLION DOLLAR BABY - though as you point out, MDB is hardly a "formula" boxing movie either (at least not the last third or so of it).

12:13 AM  

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