Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Director: Tom Ford

****

What a strange beast Nocturnal Animals is.

Like so many creatures that emerge in the darkness, it’s at once alluring and repulsive, and thoroughly unpredictable. That’s entirely the point, of course; to follow his stylish and moving debut A Single Man, fashion designer-turned-writer/director Tom Ford has made a film of contradictions, where truth and artifice constantly switch roles. In adapting Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, Ford has produced something lurid and provocative, but still with that pronounced style that defined his first film. The style’s a lure, though. This is a film that’s twisted in both content and form. There are narratives within narratives, whose brightly-lit worlds are deceptive and whose strangest sights bring their own kind of beauty.

The opening credits are a good example of Ford’s methodology here. The credits are backgrounded by a series of obese women dancing naked. The women are set against a velvety red wall that envelops the screen in warmth, thanks to the efforts of DoP Seamus McGarvey. Thanks to the oft-garish colours and another sumptuous string-led score from Abel Korzeniowski, beauty can be found even in so unorthodox a sight. The dancing women are part of an exhibit being put together by gallery owner Susan Morrow. The role of Morrow sees Amy Adams exchange her natural charm for excess make-up, horn-rimmed glasses and a cold demeanour, as Morrow’s dissatisfied with her pristine L.A. life.

Susan’s pretty house, prettier boyfriend (Armie Hammer) and obvious wealth cannot dispel her angsty fog. Indeed, this fog seems to cover the Los Angeles of Nocturnal Animals. An early aerial shot of the city at night shines a bright light on its skyscrapers, leaving the streets in the dark, like an eerie alien landscape. For all the colours McGarvey can bring to the city, it’s intentionally cold to the touch. All is artifice in Ford’s vision of L.A., from every overly made-up face to the jangling jewellery worn by a near-unrecognisable Andrea Riseborough. Indeed, the polish can feel excessive at first, lapsing into silliness, but as time goes on, this feeds into Ford’s point.

Instead of harsh realities, we get a delivery of very harsh fiction. Susan is sent a draft of a novel from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a piece of hard-boiled crime drama entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals’, which he’s dedicated to her. Like Wright’s original novel, the film plunges into this book’s narrative, in which Tony (Gyllenhaal again) goes through a night of hell travelling through rural Texas, as he and his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are menaced and tortured by a band of rednecks, led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ray. Their initial encounter is a prolonged and masterful exercise in tension, as Ray’s gang drive the family car off the road and proceed to psychologically torture their quarry. Tony’s inability to do anything about it is matched only by the anxiety that never stops building behind him. Nocturnal Animals is a film about weakness and insecurity, male weakness especially. Nocturnal animals prey on the weak.

The novel’s narrative brings a change in look and feel, going from polished galleries to the parched Texas sands. The book’s story is foreboding and cruel, and the shift in style feels the same way at first. The intertwining of narrative strands between Susan’s life, the novel, and flashbacks to hers and Edward’s marriage initially jar. Shifts between L.A. and the novel are usually signalled by Susan dropping the manuscript in a horrified daze. Yet, as Tony and Sheriff Andes (Michael Shannon, charm and accent as thick as molasses) chase the wrongdoers, and the switches between Hollywood glam and Hell Or High Water-alike grit become more frequent, they also begin to gel. Edward has dedicated his book to Susan for a reason, and her memories of him grow increasingly melancholy. This is by Edward’s design, though. Nocturnal Animals is a testament to the liberating power of creativity, as Edward expresses his darkest feelings to Susan using this narrative, a method he never could have used before their divorce. The weakness is dispelled by his creative strength.

Ford plays fast and loose with expectations throughout Nocturnal Animals. While he admirably keeps the interloping structure of narratives from the source novel, he also makes changes to accentuate the tonal shifts. In the novel, Morrow was a teacher and mother of three; in Ford’s world, she has only a floundering relationship and failing gallery to her name. These changes, these exaggerations, add an extra punch when emotion and violence do come to the fore. This and Andrew Dominik’s documentary on Nick Cave, One More Time With Feeling, would make an excellent double-bill treatise on how great creativity can be triggered by intense trauma. (All this begs the question: is Ford working out a weakness of his own in this adaptation? It hardly matters. This is a film that will offer wildly different ideas and meanings to different viewers)

It’s a tribute to Gyllenhaal and Adams that they keep the audience invested, even as tones and timelines pinball wildly. Both impress in roles that see them put aside natural charisma for broken people, whose pain is etched in every grimace. The eccentricities of the film’s look and tone extend to the supporting cast. What Michael Sheen or Laura Linney (A vision in pearls and a Southern-fried accent as Susan’s mother) are doing here is anyone’s guess, but they add undeniable flavours. Best of the bunch is Taylor-Johnson, delivering levels of ever-present menace many would have thought beyond him (Remember him as the leading man in Godzilla? Nope, us neither.)

What Ford has done here, as both writer and director, is remarkable. On the surface, Nocturnal Animals is over-stylized and potentially devoid of empathy. Yet, as it goes on, it forges its own path, keeping the style while making its angst more relatable and palpable. It’s a sleight of hand that’s both blatant in its machinations, yet surprising in its emotional power. The vividness of its colours and the horrors of its violence ensure a place in the memory, but there are levels at work here that mean Nocturnal Animals’ deeper meanings could sneak up on you when you least expect it.

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Walking In The Light: Illuminating religion in Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER

This article was originally published on Scannain.com

At one point in Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, Joaquin Phoenix’s drugged-up detective Doc Sportello enters a plush Malibu house, to be asked by his hostess, “Do you like the lighting?” (He responds with a semi-stoned, semi-horny, but quietly emphatic ‘Uh-huh.’). Anderson’s previous film, 2012’s The Master, is all about the lighting. In particular, it’s all about people looking for the light, being bathed in glows and beams, only to wind up darkened and despairing before another light source rejuvenates them anew. One might compare the characters to lizards, but it’s simply too cool a comparison. On a first watch, The Master can feel so intensely cerebral as to seem cold, but rewatches help break the ice. A 70mm rewatch, meanwhile, warms this heady brew until it’s as richly satisfying as any of Anderson’s other masterpieces.

As if you need reminding, The Master is Anderson’s Scientology film, try as it might to sidestep any accusations or similarities. Still, the similarities between Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose preening and oddly-charming gasbag turn here may well be his best) and L. Ron Hubbard are inescapable, while the shadow of Scientology’s auditing sessions looms over the processing used by Dodd’s cultish ‘Cause’. Into the lives of Dodd, his family and closest followers arrives Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a WWII veteran barely maintaining sanity due to PTSD and damage inflicted by his own brand of home-brewed hooch. Phoenix builds on the mania of portraying (a version of) himself in I’m Still Here by playing a man who may never have felt like himself to start. Quell is a neanderthalic hunching Igor to Dodd’s self-important Frankenstein, but they never get to bring a monster to life. The true horror lies in themselves. Their relationship is a cruel symbiosis, at once self-perpetuating and self-destructive. Quell needs Dodd’s guidance, but his basic problems, which are explored to an extent by Dodd’s methods, are never cured, making him feel like a greater failure. This encourages Dodd’s own doubts, whilst strengthening the resolve of his wife, Peggy (Amy Adams). A Lady Macbeth in ‘50s garb, Adams brings  a superciliousness and menace to Mrs. Dodd that often gets overlooked in analyses of the film. Her fervour, religious and otherwise, is positively terrifying. It’s been suggested that she may be the real driving force behind the Cause, and there’s nothing in a rewatch to dispel that notion.

The Master
Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in THE MASTER

As if to rope you in right from the start, the film opens with a shot of the sea. The breaking waters indicate it’s being shot from the back of the ship, with the white foam shimmering in the sunlight, marbling the cerulean ocean. There’s nary a foot put wrong in The Master’s production, but its unsung hero has to be Mihai Malaimare Jr. The rays, beams and myriad other manifestations of light the Romanian cinematographer captures in the glory of 70 millimetre film are key to The Master’s success. In turn, The Master is a key argument for 70mm as a filmmaking tool. As explained by Christopher Bonanos over at Vulture, the wider frame of 70mm film (65mm image, plus an additional 5mm for the soundtrack) captures more detail and more depth. The colours are deeper and more memorable (That opening shot of the water being a prime example), but it’s the little details that you truly savour in a 70mm revisit. Those details can be grim (Flecks of vomit in the beard of a man poisoned by Quell’s brew) or beautiful; it was not until seeing it on 70mm that this writer actively noticed the solitary cathartic tear that runs down Phoenix’s cheek after his one-on-one processing session.

Moments like Freddie’s outburst in the processing session are given extra power by Malaimare’s lighting choices. The ironic thing about these choices is they boil down to a most religious dichotomy: light and dark. When we first encounter Quell, he’s in the sun, but hidden beneath an army helmet, squinting in the shade. Whether natural or manmade, light in The Master is a symbol of hopefulness, abandon and joy. Hardly original, but it’s only when you think about how and when it’s used in the film that the symbolism gains potency. After Freddie is forced to flee his odd job as a farm labourer by running off across a misty, newly-harvested plain, we dissolve to a dock at night. Freddie enters the frame from the left, obscuring the bright lights hanging on a ship in the background. As Freddie walks down the dock, the ship comes into focus. It’s Dodd’s ship, named Alethia. It’s the only source of light in the shot, and Freddie is drawn to it like a moth. Music is playing on board, and people are dancing. He stows away on board, and the ship sails off into the Pacific under the Golden Gate Bridge, a brilliant orange sunrise lurking behind the Marin Headlands. The light is coming.

Conversely, shadows and darkness surround the characters at their lowest ebbs. Freddie’s processing scene takes place in the depths of Alethia, in a dingy room. There’s just enough light to see his features and that single tear. Throughout the film, scenes of light and darkness lead in and out of each other, with the use of either lighting scheme underlining each scene’s narrative rhythm. In the final third of the film, Freddie and Dodd dig up the work that forms Dodd’s new Cause handbook in a desert hideaway. The moment is enveloped in sun-scorched yellow sands, a moment of uncovered joy. The next time we see Dodd, however, he is about to launch the book, but hides away from his audience in an ante room. We see Dodd sitting in a narrow beam from a window, but otherwise covered in darkness. It’s reminiscent of the processing scene, but Dodd is alone, and squints into the light as if blinded by it. This launch should be a happy occasion, but the prospect inhibits him, and may prove his undoing. Anderson plays with our expectations, but always in service of his narrative. A scene in which Freddie and Dodd are put in jail could be seen as a dark moment, but it’s shot in a way to indicate sunshine coming in from a source above the men’s cells. It’s the first moment at which Freddie confronts Dodd about the Cause’s methods, with the lighting suggesting Freddie has uncovered a truth. It’s not blinding, though; this is merely the beginning of Freddie’s emergence from the Cause. Using light as a multifaceted symbol means it is not monopolized by the Cause or any one character. It can be manipulated briefly (Most notably, Quell antagonizes a customer of his photography concession with a lamp in an early scene), but the light is not anyone’s to own.

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Amy Adams in THE MASTER

The subtleties of lighting aid Anderson in telling this story, and these subtleties shine brightest in the colours of the 70mm presentation. The inquisitive moment in the jail was spurred on in a previous scene when Freddie talks to Dodd’s son, Val (Jesse Plemons, whose resemblance to Hoffman is uncanny, verging on eerie). Val bluntly informs Freddie that Dodd Sr. is making the Cause’s catechism up as he goes. Their chat takes place outside on a sunny day, but under the shady protection of a porch. Between bright light and darkened rooms lie moments of doubt, junctions at which Freddie must question what he’s doing with the Cause. This leads into a bigger question: is The Master critical of Scientology? Val’s upfront confession to Freddie mirrors similar declarations from members of L. Ron Hubbard’s family about Scientology, and it would certainly be in keeping with similar themes of corrupted religion in There Will Be Blood, in which the petty greed of preacher Eli Sunday is completely overwhelmed by the capitalist dogma of Daniel Plainview. Yet, there’s no definitive end point in The Master to suggest Anderson has pointed his crosshairs at Scientology. After all, the Cause gave Freddie an epiphany and a refocused purpose, even if it’s only temporary. Rather, Anderson seems to say that a religion/cult/whatever is only as strong as its most fervent adherents. Kierkegaard posited doubt was necessary to maintain one’s faith; Freddie has doubts, but they never allow him to leave the Cause completely. Throughout the film, he has moments of enlightenment and profound darkness, from sunny deserts to cavernous movie theatres. The film ends with Freddie lying under a sexual conquest, in a ray of daylight and quoting Dodd from their first processing session. By this point, he’s left the Cause, leaving Dodd tearily singing behind a big desk. The Cause will go on (most likely driven on by the insistence of Mrs. Dodd), and Freddie will continue his search for answers, like Thom Yorke going through an endless parade of doors in Anderson’s video for Radiohead’s ‘Daydreaming’. Yet, there he lies, recalling the words of the Master in the warmth of a post-coital sunbeam. Once again, the richness of Malaimire’s 70mm artistry speaks volumes. This light isn’t the dazzling warmth of a desert sun, but it’s enough to illuminate the dark blue surrounds of Freddie’s partner’s bedroom. The narrator in Anderson’s Magnolia says, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.” Like the past, and the Cause, the light shines on Freddie when he least expects it.

Review: Man Of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder

**

This review originally appeared on Ramp.ie

Loath though you may be to admit it, as superheroes go Superman is almost unpalatably wholesome. He’s an alien who cannot be killed; how are you supposed to forge an emotional connection with this creature? Created back in the 1930s, when irony was primarily an adjective, Superman was the embodiment of all-American derring-do and justice. As time went on, he became more of a representation of the best in humankind, eventually becoming a multi-million dollar Christ allegory. There are a couple of moments in Man Of Steel that hammer home the idea of Supes as God’s kin, and they are forehead-slappingly obvious. Not that you need to be told, but 300 and Sucker Punch director Zack Snyder is not a subtle man.

The first two installments of Christopher Reeve’s stint as the son of Krypton are still enjoyable, but they also reek of cheese and nostalgia, with little bite. The next two films are best forgotten, as is Superman Returns, Bryan Singer’s indulgent trip down memory lane. In Man Of Steel Superman steps out of Reeve’s shadow only to end up shrouded in another shadow, one with pointed ears and a gravelly voice. Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot set a dark and brooding template for superheroics, one that has raked in almost $2.5 billion thus far. With The Avengers essentially owning the fun and kitsch superhero image, plus efforts at comedy having sunk Superman once before, Man Of Steel sees Superman go dark under Nolan’s watch as producer. Because that’s what audiences want from their superheroes now, right? Darkness is one thing, but overstuffed and repetitive stories are very much another.

Man Of Steel opens on Krypton, as Jor-El (Russell Crowe) discusses ways to save the planet’s dying core with its rulers. A coup is attempted by General Zod (Michael Shannon), but it fails, and he’s frozen and sent into space just in time to see Krypton implode. This begs the question: why bother banishing him when everyone is going to die anyway? Anyhoo, Jor-El sends his newborn son into space to save him, along with a Kryptonian DNA MacGuffin which will come back to haunt us later in the film. David Goyer’s script has too much going on; too much plot, too much backstory, too much speechifying. Every line is written to be delivered with the solemnity of gospel. Some of the dialogue is repetitive, and it’s tricky to deliver this stuff when alien generals are destroying towns with lasers and issuing cross-galactic threats.

On Earth, the former Kal-El is now Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), a bearded outsider grappling with the deific powers he’s inherited. His childhood with Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, both as warm and encouraging as apple pie) is told in flashbacks, but the back and forth between the past and present serves only to break up the story. Pa Kent lectures his young’un before we jump back to the now adult Clark, but there’s little connective tissue between the two. Meanwhile, the present-day action jumps ahead of itself continuously. One moment, Clark is saving workers on a burning oil rig; the next he’s meeting Lois Lane (Amy Adams). In an apparent coincidence, she’s investigating the discovery of something beneath layers of Arctic ice, a discovery at which Clark just happens to take one of his low-paid jobs whilst roaming in search of himself, and which will turn out to be the Fortress of Solitude. Less time on the speeches and more time on the plot contrivances would have been a help, not least in Lois and Superman’s rushed romance.

Before long, Zod is free from his intergalactic ice cube and on the hunt for interplanetary lebensraum to rebuild Krypton. Discovering Kal-El on Earth, he chooses his target out of vengeance and to find the MacGuffin from earlier. At the very least, Shannon’s Zod gets more solid motivation than Terence Stamp’s chilly contempt in Superman II. Shannon’s bug-eyed stare and intensity certainly sell his portentous dialogue, which isn’t easy to do when your outfit looks like the offspring of a Ringwraith and the Space Jockey. Eventually and inevitably, we get to a showdown in Metropolis, replete with collapsing skyscrapers and extras dashing for their lives. Man Of Steel may be aiming for The Dark Knight’s sense of relevant urgency, but willy-nilly destruction on a large scale isn’t the thrilling sight onscreen that it used to be. In a post-9/11 scenario, it sits uncomfortably with the darker aspirations reflected in the muted blues and beiges of Amir Mokri’s camerawork and Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score. Snyder believes thrills come from sudden close-ups on wide shots, sometimes zooming in twice. Between this and the lens flares, someone needs to get J.J. Abrams’ lawyers on the line.

The cast do their best, sometimes in spite of the script. Adams’ Lane is spunky, Shannon is all brooding, snipy menace and Crowe’s Jor-El is given much more to do than Brando’s, but his presence/essence/soul/whatever is part of one of several plot contrivances than will leave you confused, and then annoyed. Laurence Fishburne gets shortchanged as an underwritten Perry White, and the likes of Christopher Meloni and Richard Schiff come and go with little impact. But what of Cavill? Crucially, he’s a near-perfect fit for Supes’ new blue ensemble, a fine mix of self-doubt and quasi-regal bearing. He shoulders Man Of Steel and guides it through choppy overlong waters. Clark’s elation when he first practices flight in his new regalia is one of the film’s high points.

Man Of Steel is a passable entertainment, delivering all the explosions, fights and and broad CGI vistas that $225 million can buy. Yet, once the credits roll a shrug rolls across the shoulders like Superman’s cape. After all, there’s only so long you can tolerate two near-immortals throwing each other through buildings and kicking the almighty crap out of each other. Handsome and energetic it may be, but super it is not.

Review: The Master (2012)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

*****

Do you remember getting a surprise gift under the Christmas tree when you were young? The kind in a box that you’d poke and prod and shake in an effort to ascertain the contents before eventually unwrapping it? The Master is that kind of gift. It comes with pretty wrapping paper and ribbons, but the best part is probing it in anticipation of what’s inside.

Poke and prod as you might, The Master refuses to give up its secrets easily. Even though it’s got a rep as ‘the Scientology movie’, that’s only a portion of what Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is about. There are layers upon layers upon layers here, like Leo DiCaprio performed Inception on an onion. That said, chances are you’d have to dig through many a layer of neurosis and angst to get to wherever Joaquin Phoenix is at, mentally speaking.

If anyone thought Phoenix had completely lost his mind when he made I’m Still Here, you’ll be hoping for men in white coats to approach from the wings throughout The Master. Phoenix’s Freddie Quell is a recently-discharged U.S. Marine, but right from the opening scenes it’s clear he isn’t exactly the most upstanding of Uncle Sam’s boys. Hunched, violent and with a penchant for smut and alcohol, Quell is an animal, albeit one actively searching for someone to tame him. The US he wanders through is taming itself after World War II with Mad Men-style advertising and Jesus. Having lost numerous jobs, Quell is quelled having discovered his own personal Jesus. Enter Lancaster Dodd, a preening gasbag of self-importance brought to doughy life by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dodd leads ‘The Cause’, which can only be described as a Scientology-like cult, with its methods of dodgy pseudo-psychiatry and charismatic leadership. L. Ron Hubbard may be the inspiration for Dodd, but Anderson is not out to satirize Scientology or any other cult. Admittedly, if he were, The Master would be a lot easier to grasp.

Anderson has earned comparisons to many directors with his short filmography. If Boogie Nights saw him channel Scorsese and Magnolia was the best film Robert Altman never made, The Master is full-blown Kubrickian chilliness. Whether it’s L. Ron Hubbard, Timothy Leary or the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, cult heads  are often built on charisma and the backs of the vulnerable. Quell needs the expertise of a psychiatrist, not the blind stabs of a wealthy after-dinner speaker. That said, The Master is not an anti-religious diatribe; the story begins and ends with Freddie Quell. His energy makes him rich pickings for Dodd, but his animalistic impatience is a liability. Who’s toying with who? Many a beautiful moment in The Master occurs when the worshipper becomes the deity.

Whilst The Master is too veiled to be a critique à la Full Metal Jacket, it takes its cues from Kubrick’s distant and cruel eye, reserving its secrets for those willing to devote the time to working its mysteries out. Quell is just a step down from Jack Torrance in the mania stakes, whilst various scenes and narrative points recall the likes of A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut. There are moments that may make you raise your eyebrows in quizzical confusion, but then some of these scenes are from Freddie’s point of view, so they may not even be happening. The Master leaves that decision, and many others, up to you.

The relationship between Quell and Dodd is the crux of the film, and continues Anderson’s line in shaky father figures from Boogie Nights onwards. Phoenix the madman and Hoffman the snaky charmer are an odd but weirdly compatible duo: the master and his right-hand neanderthal. Amy Adams, as Mrs. Dodd, looks on somewhat aghast at Quell, and her slow-boiling vexation compliments that of the audience. As Quell submits to Dodd’s ‘treatments’, she can’t believe what she sees. You’ll struggle with it too; Phoenix is nothing short of unhinged. Memorably so, but still unnerving enough to leave you feeling uncomfortable.

Spiritually, The Master is a companion piece to There Will Be Blood. Both period pieces say something about the times they’re set in, though TWBB was arguably more accessible. The odorous oil fields of turn-of-the-century California are swapped for the sanitized 1950s, a fact reflected in Mihai Mihalmire’s gorgeously muted cinematography (less dazzling work than Anderson’s regular DP Robert Elswit, but notable nonetheless). As Jonny Greenwood stirs the hairs on the back of the neck with another taut score, the desperation for hope in these characters becomes clear, but more viewings will be needed to decipher it all. Yet even if the message is closer to the surface than first appearances might suggest, the return trips to this intoxicating film will not be in vain. Anderson has never lacked for confidence in his writing and direction, and The Master is another of his cinematic Rubik’s cubes, awaiting your wonderment.

This review originally appeared on Ramp.ie

Review: The Fighter (2010)

Director: David O. Russell

****

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When The Fighter started filming last year, many people were hoping for a few punches to be thrown behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. Would the notoriously finicky David O. Russell dare use the same language around the sometimes-volatile Christian Bale as he did with Lily Tomlin? Thankfully, all the punches are onscreen; The Fighter is an incredibly passionate piece of work, with great performances at its heart. This film needs passion, because it has a few sports movie stalwarts to overcome.

In almost every boxing movie, the hero is the underdog who needs a win. ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) has just lost his third fight in a row, and is regarded as a stepping stone for other fighters to get to the big leagues. His entourage comprises his screwed-up family. His father and seven sisters make their voices known, but the main influences on Micky are his mother and manager Alice (Melissa Leo) and his step-brother and trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Like so many movie families, Micky’s clan mean well, but they’re holding him back. Alice books fights that Micky is destined to lose, and Dicky is in and out of jail and crackhouses like a yo-yo. If our movie-going experience has taught us anything, it’s that the love of a good woman will help Micky find the right way. Wouldn’t you know it?! There’s a sassy barmaid (Amy Adams’ Charlene) with a thing for Micky. There’s not much point in saying much more about the plot since you’ve probably guessed it already (Will Micky finally get a shot at the welterweight championship? Take a wild guess!). Writers Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson can’t really play around with the boxing movie formula as it’s all based on the true story of Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund. In a way this makes the story all the better; movie clichés are unbelievable, but they go down easy when they’re based on truth.

Russell directs with an unfussy hand, letting the drama flow naturally. Whilst that may mean his fight scenes may lack the artistic punch of Raging Bull, he gives them a TV-broadcast feel, like watching a big fight in the local pub with a beer and some friends. Bale’s emaciated frame and thinning hairline have got a lot of notice, but his performance goes beyond the cosmetic. Dicky should know better, but we’re willing to forgive. Bale almost steals the show, but Wahlberg invests Micky with too much heart to be overlooked. He and Bale bounce off each other nicely with a natural chemistry. However, the men don’t hog all the muscle, as Leo and Adams provide fierce yet fantastic support.

The Fighter’s familiarity is an asset to it. It’s not about a noble attempt at redemption or a bitter lesson about defeat. It’s about a regular joe trying to catch a break. Micky Ward may be a tough guy, but he’s a likeable and sympathetic guy, too. The Fighter is more than likeable; it’s a knockout.