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J.A.A. Purves

The Fighter (2010)

139 posts in this topic

Happy New Year, SDG!

:choir:::box2::

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If you told me you didn’t like movies about boxing, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies. A good fight picture can generate a raw emotional experience that practically defines the effect of the cinema itself at its most addictive. Every boxing movie basically tells the same story: A poor man with very little going for him but will and determination finds the strength within to risk everything in an effort to transcend his hardscrabble circumstances. The boxer is the great fantasy figure of American movies—the ordinary hero. ...

The great surprise of The Fighter, a new and entirely irresistible entry in the genre, is that it is far more like Rocky than Raging Bull. It was directed, and sensationally well, by David O. Russell, a filmmaker whose previous work (Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) so drips with multifarious layers of irony that he would seem the last person on earth capable of making a head-on, populist, working-class fight picture. And yet that is exactly what The Fighter is, and why it’s so wonderful.

More here.

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If you told me you didn’t like movies about boxing, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

Where's the emoticon for an eye-roll?

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If you told me you didn’t like movies about boxing, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

Where's the emoticon for an eye-roll?

Where's the emoticon for "What Jeff said"? I liked The Fighter but, um, duh.

Edited by SDG

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But guys...it works for anything! Look:

If you told me you didn’t like movies about murder, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

If you told me you didn’t like movies about dancing, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

If you told me you didn’t like movies about sex, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

If you told me you didn’t like movies about war, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

If you told me you didn’t like movies about religion, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

If you told me you didn’t like movies about gangsters, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

If you told me you didn’t like movies about zombies, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

The possibilities are of dismissiveness are endless!

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If you told me you didn’t like movies about zombies, I’d have to answer that you didn’t really like movies.

Am I allowed to (facetiously) suggest that the above statement is true? I mean - come on! Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later... where can you go wrong?

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Tony Kornheiser raved about this movie on his show yesterday. Two one-hour podcasts of the show are available here. I heard the broadcast but can't remember if his comments -- about this movie as well as The King's Speech -- came in the first hour or second (sorry).

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The morality of boxing questions aside, this is a pretty engrossing film. I'd venture to say it's not even a boxing film except for its ending, which is probably the only real let down.

I liked the ending and the winning fight, but I wish there had been a few scenes about the rest of the story: the family quarrels, the drug addiction. It built all these things up and then decided to end like a Rocky film. Too bad it stopped there, because the rest of the story is much more than a Rocky film.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEca3Ltpi5c

Christian wrote:

: Did I read somewhere that David O. Russell was brought on to this film after another director was fired?

I don't know about "fired", but apparently the film was originally going to be directed by Darren Aronofsky, who now has an "executive producer" credit.

Persiflage wrote:

: - Amy Adams - she keeps playing different characters and personalities too. Charlene has a little more fight/spunk to her than some of Adams other characters. But that's just the sort of girl Micky needs.

Absolutely. The bit where she punches one of Micky's sisters in the face was strangely satisfying, in particular. :)

And, for whatever it's worth, I actually found Adams kind of sexier in Leap Year, but the combination of sexiness and spunk here certainly works very well, and gives her more range than she's shown in her best-known roles to date.

: - It's a boxing film, but it's also a film about family.

Yeah, and it's interesting in that regard. Although... I did begin to wonder whether any of his sisters had lives of their own. (And I kind of wish I hadn't known ahead of time that one of the sisters is played by Conan O'Brien's sister. Once you know that, it's pretty obvious which one she must be.)

vjmorton wrote:

: "Belly Epokway" is my new favorite phrase. I also loved the guy walking in behind Micky and his girlfriend telling them with small-e evangelical zeal how the New York Times loved it.

Just in case anyone wants to read the actual New York Times review of that film, here it is.

Persiflage wrote:

: I understand if you believe boxing is wrong, then The Fighter is a poorer film for not reaching the same conclusion ... but ... I ... well ... that affects the actual quality of the film and acting performances because ... it's just a frustrating criticism of the film.

Agreed. It's like complaining that a war movie doesn't take a strong anti-war stance.

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I've summed up my thoughts on the film (some of which I've already expressed here) over at Image's Good Letters blog. Comments are welcome.

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I've summed up my thoughts on the film (some of which I've already expressed here) over at Image's Good Letters blog. Comments are welcome.

Yeah, it looks like it's also echoing some of your thoughts on Cinderella Man as well. Let's just say that if I believed boxing was a sin, then I wouldn't have been able to enjoy (and cheer during) The Fighter either.

Again, I think your main problem is that to anyone who liked The Fighter, your main objection to the film seems to be the immorality of boxing, and that comes across more as a moral judgment on the filmmaker's personal morals than it does as any sort of critique on the quality of the film itself. (And sure, if David O. Russell believed boxing was morally wrong, then he could have changed the story to show how boxing destroyed the life of Micky Ward, and then you could have appreciated it.)

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Again, I think your main problem is that to anyone who liked The Fighter, your main objection to the film seems to be the immorality of boxing, and that comes across more as a moral judgment on the filmmaker's personal morals than it does as any sort of critique on the quality of the film itself.

I just want to say that the moral character of Jeff's objection to the film is no mark against his critique. Moral critique is well within the scope of legitimate criticism. Moral concerns have an overriding significance in all areas of human endeavor, including art and art appreciation. Critics, like artists, are moral agents, and movies (often) have a moral dimension, and criticism should reflect that.

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And keep in mind: My article is not a full *review.* (My contributions to Image are more "creative nonfiction" or "personal reflections" than reviews.) If I had been assigned a review, I would have praised many technical aspects of the film, but concluded that it was a lot of good work in support of an idea that is fundamentally flawed.

But I grew tired of writing standard reviews a long time ago, and since moviegoers have a thousand reviews available to them, I'm focusing my attention on other "treatments" of big-screen material.

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Haven't seen The Fighter yet. But isn't boxing as a sport mainly motivated by gambling? I mean, the reason it's a big deal is because you can make a lot money, not because you admire or root for Marvelous Marvin Hagler because he's a technician.

I think there's an undercurrent of moral vacuousness in any defense of a sport that derives 90% of its ongoing persistence to wagering.

It seems like, as you allude to in your review, the NFL is starting to grapple with the same issue, even though much less of its revenues stream from gambling.

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Though wagering is accepted as a form of sport. Especially the Texas hold 'em variety.

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Overstreet wrote:

: Each fighter is seeking to pulverize his opponent, to make him momentarily incapable of functioning or responding by delivering physical abuse that will result, to some degree, in permanent damage.

Well, not quite. Each fighter is trying to deliver physical abuse that will damage the opponent TEMPORARILY, i.e. until the count of ten, or until the fight is over. The physical abuse MAY result in permanent damage, but that doesn't mean it WILL.

Granted, the odds of sustaining permanent damage are increased as fighters engage in more and more fights. But that's true of any sport (including, as you note, football).

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: Each fighter is seeking to pulverize his opponent, to make him momentarily incapable of functioning or responding by delivering physical abuse that will result, to some degree, in permanent damage.

Well, not quite. Each fighter is trying to deliver physical abuse that will damage the opponent TEMPORARILY, i.e. until the count of ten, or until the fight is over. The physical abuse MAY result in permanent damage, but that doesn't mean it WILL.

Granted, the odds of sustaining permanent damage are increased as fighters engage in more and more fights. But that's true of any sport (including, as you note, football).

The difference being, as I've repeatedly noted, that incapacitating the other person is the GOAL in boxing, and not in football.

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And with stats like "90% of boxers suffer brain damage", you as a boxer are determining to deliver a sort of punishment that causes such things. I doubt many boxers in the ring are thinking, "Hmm. I should hit him hard, but not so hard as to cause permanent damage."

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That was far too glib, even for me. But it's hard for me to conceal my distaste for this.

I missed the glibness--probably the vacuity in my head. Sorry.

"Motivated" with respect to whom?

Motivated primarily by the profiteers--you know, Big Business Republicans. Dick Cheney. George Bush. Black men beating themselves senseless. And Puerto Ricans. And some Filipinos. Occassionally a white guy, but we'll ignore them for their inconvenience to my argument.

Look, that's total facetiousness. I can understand skepticism whenever anyone speculates that events are organized by a controlling nefarious body. But boxing exists to make money. And since it's regulated in a fashion to legitimize the gambling interests, and exhibited in areas that are mainly associated with gambling, I think the driving interest in the sport is gambling. And once the driving interest is gambling, and that the goal of boxing, as SDG notes, is to temporarily incapacitate the opponent, the connection between the spectator cheering for the incapacitation of another so that he or she can win money, makes me say that the activity is morally suspect.

What about the Golden Gloves? The Olympics? Aren't those just minor leagues? Maybe some boxer breaks out of a bad situation and earns a living boxing. But the sport doesn't exist for him. It exists for the gambler.

"A big deal" to whom? Who is "you" in the second part of the clause?

A big deal to people who stand to profit from the exhibition (Showtime, CBS, Harrah's, the audience, whoever). Replace "you" with "one". Generic pronoun.

I love the smell of groundless assertions about the motivations of obviously misguided others with whom disagrees about a moral issue ... in the morning.

Is it still morning where you're at? That sucks. My workday (now postponed by writing this post) is almost done.

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SDG wrote:

: The difference being, as I've repeatedly noted, that incapacitating the other person is the GOAL in boxing, and not in football.

That's a difference between boxing and football, sure, but it is not a difference that makes a difference to the point at hand, which concerns whether the physical abuse "each fighter" gives to each other fighter "will" cause permanent damage. Sometimes, sure, but not always, and maybe even not most of the time. If Jeff had said the physical abuse "may" cause permanent damage, there would be no issue here.

Overstreet wrote:

: And with stats like "90% of boxers suffer brain damage" . . .

Over the course of an entire career, sure, that doesn't sound too improbable.

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The difference being, as I've repeatedly noted, that incapacitating the other person is the GOAL in boxing, and not in football.

(1) Which distinction would only have cash value if it resulted in the act of punching, as an object, being itself a moral evil. If it does, then of course the argument flies, but the longtime traditional practices of the Church make it hard to swallow that boxing could be an intrinsic evil on such obviously self-evident grounds.

(2) It is simply not the case that the sport's goal is to incapacitate in a way serious enough to have moral weight -- unless (again) the quickest of KOs, which is always implicit in the very act of throwing a punch and thus would make punching an evil act, constitutes "incapacitation."

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: The difference being, as I've repeatedly noted, that incapacitating the other person is the GOAL in boxing, and not in football.

That's a difference between boxing and football, sure, but it is not a difference that makes a difference to the point at hand, which concerns whether the physical abuse "each fighter" gives to each other fighter "will" cause permanent damage. Sometimes, sure, but not always, and maybe even not most of the time. If Jeff had said the physical abuse "may" cause permanent damage, there would be no issue here.

"Will" may somewhat overstate things, but "may" somewhat understates the connection between short-term incapacitation and long-term damage. The crucial part of Jeff's sentence, "Each fighter is seeking to pulverize his opponent, to make him momentarily incapable of functioning or responding," aptly distinguishes what is problematic about boxing from other punishing sports including football. It is hard in a short sentence to cover all the nuances of the complicated moral issues around intentionality and causality.

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The difference being, as I've repeatedly noted, that incapacitating the other person is the GOAL in boxing, and not in football.

(1) Which distinction would only have cash value if it resulted in the act of punching, as an object, being itself a moral evil.

There is more than one way to make a buck. It is not punching but attempting to incapacitate that is on trial here, and the charge is not intrinsic evil, but directly intending a temporary but real material evil, and one that is proximate to more serious (debilitating or permanent) evil.

(2) It is simply not the case that the sport's goal is to incapacitate in a way serious enough to have moral weight -- unless (again) the quickest of KOs, which is always implicit in the very act of throwing a punch and thus would make punching an evil act, constitutes "incapacitation."

My, what a slippery word you just introduced, "implicit." Do you mean to say that every punch has as its intended aim the unconsciousness of the other person? I think that will be difficult to sustain.

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I just want to say that the moral character of Jeff's objection to the film is no mark against his critique. Moral critique is well within the scope of legitimate criticism. Moral concerns have an overriding significance in all areas of human endeavor, including art and art appreciation. Critics, like artists, are moral agents, and movies (often) have a moral dimension, and criticism should reflect that.

100% agreed. And moral critiques of films are the most interesting of all critiques because they are essentially concluding that no one should enjoy, recommend, or take inspiration from the film that is promoting a morally flawed idea.

And keep in mind: My article is not a full *review.* (My contributions to Image are more "creative nonfiction" or "personal reflections" than reviews.) If I had been assigned a review, I would have praised many technical aspects of the film, but concluded that it was a lot of good work in support of an idea that is fundamentally flawed. But I grew tired of writing standard reviews a long time ago, and since moviegoers have a thousand reviews available to them, I'm focusing my attention on other "treatments" of big-screen material.

And I like that you now discuss films in this way. As I understand your argument, it is that [a] boxing is immoral, movie directors should take stands against the immoral when dealing with the relevant subject matter, therefore [c] David O. Russell should have used The Fighter to take a moral stand against boxing.

So, no, I didn’t enjoy my matinee of The Fighter. While the crowd cheered, I didn’t want Micky to win the fight. I wanted somebody more discerning than his sexy bartending girlfriend to come along and rescue him from his family’s ignorance.

What interests me in your objection is that it seems to logically follow that David O. Russell should have changed the story. But this is a true story. The Fighter, more than Cinderella Man or the Rocky films, explores how Micky is being exploited and taken advantage of in the boxing world. His story is how he overcomes this abuse, and uses his moral character to [a] leave the streets and provide for his family, and inspire his brother to follow his example and pursue something of worth, rather than something destructive. In your ideal boxing film, maybe a priest could have come along and convinced Micky to stop boxing. In this film, a girl comes along, and inspires him to triumph over those in the boxing world who were hurting him, and then use his ability to help some of the very people in his life who were abusing him in the first place. Aren't the real life stories of Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund worth taking moral inspiration from? Your critique of the film seems to imply the opposite.

I also cringe at what such a spectacle encourages in its audience. Some exceptional boxing fans may stand up with a noble defense of it, but I am dispirited by the culture that festers around such fights. Boxing rings are like casinos—no matter how much you defend the integrity of the games played inside, you cannot deny that such activities have a gravity that draws in a storm of misbehaviors, from reckless spending to the objectification of women. I know this is harsh, but I tend to see boxing fans as people who need an outlet for their frustrations. Feeling impotent, oppressed, and afraid, they find vicarious thrills as their fighter of choice pummels the opponent, who becomes a scapegoat, a symbol of anything they want to knock down. Show me a boxing movie that is honest enough to spoil our appetite for such stuff, and maybe I’ll find a boxing movie to love.

This doesn't seem to be harsh as much as it seems unfair to the boxers themselves. Couldn't you make a very similar critique of horse racing? Why not criticize the film, Secretariat, because of all the fans in the stands who are abusing the sport, taking advantage of it to gamble and engage in fantasy-wish-fulfillment? Why didn't Randall Wallace use the story of Penny Chenery and Lucien Laurin to show how they were really just exploiting all the horse racing fans in a therefore immoral sport? Is it because jockeys who die or suffer permanent injuries while horse-racing is more of an accident? Is it because the outlet that horse racing fans engage in is less about physical violence and more about material gain? Or perhaps, does the number of fans who abuse their enjoyment of the sport have absolutely nothing to do with the moral character of the horse-racing owners OR boxers themselves?

Haven't seen The Fighter yet. But isn't boxing as a sport mainly motivated by gambling? I mean, the reason it's a big deal is because you can make a lot money, not because you admire or root for Marvelous Marvin Hagler because he's a technician. I think there's an undercurrent of moral vacuousness in any defense of a sport that derives 90% of its ongoing persistence to wagering.

Nope. Ticket sales and pay-per-view sales (HBO, Showtime) are where the majority of boxing revenue arises from. Sure, there's corruption and sure, some tickets are sold to gamblers who want to watch their bets. But I don't think any other sporting event in the PPV industry is more lucrative (except perhaps mixed-martial arts). A sport like horse-racing or Nascar is probably far more motivated by gambling than boxing ever was (which to me, still doesn't mean the sports themselves exist in any sort of moral vacuum). While boxing has fallen out of popularity today, good luck trying to show that the majority of boxing fans (now or a century ago) are/were wagering on most fights. I'd bet (pun intended) that the majority of the guys crowding their local pubs to listen to fights on the radio in the older days were doing so more for social and patriotic reasons rather than for the same reasons they'd go to a casino. Gambling in sports will always be a problem as long as fallen human nature exists. But it's a problem that corrupts sports like boxing, not something that is inherent in the sport itself.

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