The Fighter * * * *
Cert 15, 115 mins
Having cleaned up at every award ceremony so far this year, Christian Bale is almost certain to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his stand-out, edgy performance in this movie based on a true story.
Almost painfully thin again, wild-eyed and hyper, he plays crack addict Dicky Eklund in Massachusetts in 1993.
A former boxer who still lives off the time he fought Sugar Ray Leonard, he’s being filmed by HBO. He thinks they’re making a documentary about his fighting comeback, but it’s really all about the dangers of drug addiction.
When he’s not comatose in a crack house, Dicky trains his younger brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who has lost most of his fights but carries on, mainly because he can’t say no to his terrifying mother Alice.
Melissa Leo, in real life only 11 years older than Wahlberg, is almost unrecognisable as this loud and brash woman. She and her seven daughters, sporting horrendous hairdos, provide some welcome comedy amid the angst and punches.
So does Micky’s blossoming romance with barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams). The Fighter is well written and engrossing, as Micky struggles with his torn loyalties between his flawed family on one side and girlfriend and new management on the other.
Perhaps Bale overacts a little, making Wahlberg’s subtle performance seem almost wooden in comparison, but it’s certainly compelling to watch.
The boxing element of the story is predictable. We know Micky is going to win in the ring, otherwise they wouldn’t be making a film about him, though his ability to turn a fight around when all hope seems lost is extraordinary.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie an absolute knockout, but it is certainly well worth a look. RL
Brighton Rock * * * *
Cert 15, 106 mins
First made in 1947 and starring a young Richard Attenborough, this new adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel moves the action to 1964 but sticks to the same plot. Rising star Sam Riley, last seen playing musician Ian Curtis in Control, takes on the role of violent teenager Pinkie, a junior member of a gang running a protection racket who sees his chance to move up the ranks when his boss is stabbed by rivals.
Pinkie takes revenge by bashing the killer’s head in. But mousy waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough) could implicate him in the crime, so he seduces her in order to shut her up. You’d have thought she could spot what a wrong ‘un he is – he’s a mass of seething malevolence, who enjoys pulling the legs off spiders – but she’s attracted to his dark side. You just know it will end in tears.
I wasn’t completely blown away by this film and its melodramatic finale, but it does have quite a bit to recommend it. It’s atmospherically shot by Rowan Joffe and full of striking images, such as mods on scooters invading the seafront and Pinkie and Rose standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff.
The cast is also impressive – you can’t not watch a film featuring Helen Mirren and John Hurt, along with Phil Davis, Steve Evets and Andy Serkis. Among the best of British, you might say. RL
Rabbit Hole * * * *
Cert 12A, 91 mins
Few people will get to see Nicole Kidman deservedly earning her third best actress Oscar nomination in this family drama.
And she will almost certainly be left empty-handed again on Academy Awards’ night thanks to Natalie Portman’s performance in the spellbinding Black Swan.
But even though Rabbit Hole is only playing Cineworld Broad Street, it’s still worth seeking out if you want to see a grown-up film about how parents cope with grief after the death of a child.
Adapted from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole burrows away at the relationship between Howie (Aaron Eckhart) and Becca (Kidman) following their bereavement.
Becca’s own mother has also previously lost a son to drugs, so the script’s credulity is overstretched by this degree of coincidence.
Otherwise, it’s a grounded, well-rounded insight into the value of everything from a pet dog to electronic memories, the differences between the sexes when it comes to coping with grief and the future nature of sexual activity in such relationships.
Rabbit Hole’s universal relevance is that it illustrates how a car accident can change your life forever. GY
Hereafter * * *
12A, 129 mins
If three people in different countries are haunted by death in different ways, can they connect in the land of the living?
That’s the gist of Clint Eastwood’s exploration of the afterlife which opens with a well-staged tsunami.
The subject matter inevitably raises more questions than answers so your enjoyment of this visually-subdued film will depend on how much you wanted scriptwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen) to provide them.
With Eastwood stubbornly determined to make one of the quietest films you’ll ever see and Matt Damon restrained like never before, the Hereafter could either leave you thinking...or seriously underwhelmed. GY
Sanctum 3D * *
Cert 15, 108 mins
This cave-bound diving thriller comes with an ominous tagline: ‘‘The only way out is down’’.
Even so, brash James Cameron has stamped his name on it thanks to the way little known director Alister Grierson makes use of Avatar’s 3D cameras.
Yes, it’s better looking than post-production 3D vehicles like Clash of the Titans and The Green Hornet, but the trite script means Cameron might have been better off remaining as anonymous as the film’s other eight producers.
Documentary filmmaker turned writer Andrew Wight is unable to convert his own real-life experiences of being trapped by flood waters into the emotional depth of other survival movies like The Descent, Buried and 127 Hours.
Expedition leader Frank (Richard Roxburgh) is unbearably gruff and the joke about 3D rendering is ill-advised given the way that too many feature films aren’t living up to the extra cost that punters are being charged to watch them. GY
The Mechanic *
Cert 15, 92 mins
Jason Statham’s latest stubbled character does exactly what it says on his assassin’s gunmetal chin.
After Lock Stock, two Crank movies, Transporter trilogy and even The Expendables, the former Olympic diver remains a charismatic presence on screen with an underhand ability to outwit and ‘‘fix’’ his enemies.
But he still lacks a genuine, A-list career-making star vehicle and this reworking of a 1972 Michael Winner film starring Charles Bronson certainly isn’t it thanks to a mixture of hackneyed script, explicit violence and a plot with no thrust.
Once again, this is the story of a hitman called Arthur Bishop taking on a young would-be professional killer called Steve McKenna (Ben Foster).
That it (briefly) co-stars Donald Sutherland and should be so well filmed in parts only makes the end result even more depressing – especially as British director Simon West began his career so promisingly with Con Air in 1997. GY
How Do You Know *
Cert 12A, 120 mins
After Terms of Endearment in the 80s and As Good As It Gets in the 90s, Jack Nicholson is back in harness with writer-director James L Brooks.
This must be an old pals reunion, since a 73-year-old double Oscar winner ought to have been able to spot the rancid nature of this script long before it had even been posted through his letterbox.
Rejected from her place in the national softball team, Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) finds herself seeing both major league baseball pitcher Matty (Owen Wilson) and a suspect businessman called George (Paul Rudd).
His boss and father Charles is a corporate dinosaur who is played by a weaker-voiced Nicholson as if he’s got a flat battery.
Every scene is as achingly long and laboured as the film’s instantly forgettable title.
The script relies heavily on such pseudo tosh such as ‘‘don’t judge anybody before you check yourself out’ and ‘where there is no struggle there is no strength’’.
But there’s no excuse for Big Jack sharing a scene with a line like: ‘‘Don’t cry, you ethical mutant.’’ GY