David O. Russell‘s “The Fighter” is one of the year’s awards horses that is yet to screen for critics, but last night, Paramount pulled a last minute, stealth premiere screening at the AFI Fest. Tickets were on a first come, first served basis, and there was a limited press allocation as well. Mark Wahlberg was on hand to introduce the film and told the audience, “….and if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t like it I will come to your house and do hard labor.” And it looks like he doesn’t have to worry about raking leaves in someone’s backyard.
Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams star in “The Fighter” which is based on true story of boxer ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and his half-brother and trainer Dickie Ecklund (Bale). Early response from critics has been good, though not overwhelmingly strong. As trailers for the film have indicated, the picture plays as a straight up crowdpleaser, boosted by the performances of the film’s trio of stars, with particular attention being paid to Amy Adams. Most agree that it will be waiting game to see how the film plays with critics and audiences before it becomes a bonafide contender. Here’s a roundup of the critical consensus so far:
Surprisingly, it’s Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter who is least impressed with the film. He notes that for “much of this film, the viewer is turned into an observer. You never feel close enough to the action, either in the ring or in the kitchens, living rooms and tough streets where the story takes place. The characters engage you up to a point but never really pull you in.” But he saves his biggest jab for director David O. Russell and star Mark Wahlberg who have been long attached the project saying that they never “make the case that [Mickey Ward’s] story merits a major studio movie” and overall, “the feeling persists that this is one that got away, that the film Wahlberg envisioned is not the film that ultimately got made.”
Kris Tapley at InContention says “we’re looking at a solid contender for a Best Picture nomination” and says acting nods should be expected for Christian Bale’s “mercilessly precise, committed and authentic” performance, Amy Adams’ “steel-eyed sincerity” and Melissa Leo’s “showy” though at times “campy” turn. He also notes that “the film played like gangbusters” with the AFI crowd and that “this is a film meant to hit and hit big.”
Stephen Saito at IFC has mixed feelings and points out the the film is the least David O. Russell-esque film of the director’s career. “The Fighter” is the first film Russell isn’t credited with writing himself and it’s telling that the film is far more visually idiosyncratic than it is narratively,” Saito observes. And while it “hits all the beats a film like this should and rises above its station with strong performances from Bale, Leo and Adams” it doesn’t amount to much more than “sturdy crowdpleaser.”
Pete Hammond at Deadline, who spends half of his piece recounting the story of how he jumped through hoops to get into the screening, calls the film a “vivid and colorful crowd pleaser” and mentions that the AFI “crowd ate it up.” As for the cast, in his opinion, “all have real shots” at nominations.
Gregory Ellwood at HitFix says the film “has the chance to be a big crowd pleaser and substantial box office hit. Oh, and as suspected, it’s a legitimate Oscar player.” Once again, Adams is singled out as “the biggest surprise of the film” while Leo’s performance is noted (again) to “border on camp in some scenes.”
Eric Eisenberg at CinemaBlend says that though the film is “a bit clichéd” “David O. Russell has crafted an awesome boxing film” by “excellently balancing tones and evoking superb performances from each one of his actors.” Particular praise is given to the ’80s-heavy soundtrack that includes “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake, “Back In The Saddle” by Aerosmith and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by The Rolling Stones and the climatic boxing match which, as other reviews have noted, is shot digitally like a live a sporting event.
Anne Thompson at Thompson On Hollywood believes the film should factor in the awards season race “if all goes right (reviews/box office/critics and guild prizes).” Once again, the performances by the trio of Bale, Adams and Leo are singled out as she notes, “the actors shine in this and should be rewarded.”
More reviews will be coming out of the gate as the film screens for East coast critics starting tomorrow. “The Fighter” gets in the ring on December 10th.