WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
A total knockout as a piece of well-made B-movie grit Fighting focuses on two men living on separate edges of society who come together to make a killing in the forbidden world of bare-knuckle fighting. When con man Harvey Boarden spots raw street-fighting talent in the form of small-town dude Shawn MacArthur the two team up by entering Shawn in the potentially lucrative underground circuit a place where rich men bet on young brawlers who battle like pit bulls unleashed. With success comes complications however and Shawn ends up fighting not only for money but his whole future — which suddenly is very much at stake.
WHO’S IN IT?
Rising young heartthrob Channing Tatum’s (Step Up) raw star power blasts through the screen as Shawn a role that thankfully calls for more complexity than just acting with his fists. Opposite Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard’s (Hustle & Flow) Harvey he steps up his game and the two play off each other with ease searching for ways to lift what is basically an action vehicle into something more emotionally involving and Rocky-esque. Certainly the highlights are still the intense and brutal fight sequences but because Tatum invests more than just one note into his portrayal of a guy trying to work his way up from the streets into a better life we are behind him all the way. In a case of a Zulay playing another Zulay Zulay Henao is sweet and appealing as a girl Shawn starts dating between bouts while Brian White is menacing and slippery as Evan Hailey a key rival and protégé of Shawn’s own estranged father. Also of note is Altagracia Guzman who has a couple of very funny scenes as Zulay’s disapproving grandmother.
The heart-stopping realism of the bare-knuckle fighting is refreshingly free of cinematic trickery and CGI assistance. It’s raw and packs real punch particularly during a sequence in which Shawn faces a formidable martial arts opponent but also in the climactic bout with Hailey. And fortunately there are some nice twists along the way that keep this flick from drifting into complete predictability. Director Dito Montiel who previously made the Sundance award-winner A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (also with Tatum) knows the New York street scene well.
Although richly entertaining the film could have benefitted from a deeper look into this forbidden world of underground human fighting which hasn’t been explored much on-screen beyond the very unique take of David Fincher’s acerbic Fight Club.
Aside from the powerful fisticuffs on constant display it has to be Shawn’s first encounter with Zulay’s grandmother when he arrives unannounced for dinner. It’s priceless stuff serving to humanize him and ramp his score way up on the likeability meter.
Give credit to the filmmakers for the simplicity of the name. Fighting tells you everything you need to know.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Multiplex. Like any boxing match it’s more fun to watch with a crowd.
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) a bleeding heart poet and staunch environmentalist is convinced a series of unexplained coincidences involving a tall African doorman somehow mean something leading him to married metaphysicians Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin)--otherwise known as the Existential Detectives. Instead of looking for other people this pair tirelessly investigates the mysteries of their clients' secret innermost lives--their "Beings " so to speak--to help them answer their questions. Immediately digging in Bernard and Vivian find out that Albert has a deep-seated hatred for Brad Stand (Jude Law) a golden-boy sales executive at the popular retail superstore chain Huckabees who at first sponsors Albert's Open Spaces Coalition to save a nearby marsh from commercial construction but who ends up taking over the coalition. The Existential Detectives believe Brad may be the key to cracking Albert's case but get sidetracked when Brad hires them for himself--leading them to explore Brad's ambitions hang-ups and his superficial relationship with Huckabees' hot blonde spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). Meanwhile Albert becomes disenfranchised with Bernard and Vivian and pairs up with another of the duo's clients--firefighter tough guy and uncompromising soul searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Together they join forces with the Jaffes' arch nemesis sexy French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) whose life teachings revolve around "cruelty manipulation and meaninglessness." Now as Being intermixes with Nothingness Albert Tommy Brad Dawn Bernard Vivian and Caterine get all tangled up in one another as their wild romp through life's biggest questions brings them to some startling truths. Whew!
With such a clever script to back them up it isn't hard to see why the Huckabees wannabes turn in some cracking good performances. Schwartzman once again plays a nebbish sullen but lovable geek (similar to his side-splitting turn in Rushmore) bringing out the film's heart and soul especially with his environmental poetry ("You ROCK rock!"). Veterans Hoffman and Tomlin who are dead-on as the happily married Existential Detectives and Huppert as the deadpan French philosopher complement the proceedings beautifully. For the first time in a long time Hoffman doesn't overplay his part instead letting his quiet inner "Being" out taking his character's philosophies to heart ("Everything you ever desired or wanted to be you already have and are"). But who knew more serious actors--Mark Wahlberg Jude Law and Naomi Watts--could be so excruciatingly funny? Wahlberg's freethinking obstinate firefighter would rather ride a bike to a fire than get into a gas-guzzling fire truck while Watts' Dawn decides she doesn't need to be pretty and is fearless with overalls a bonnet and Oreo cookies stuck in her teeth. As the straight man Law actually has the most difficult part playing the handsome cad who thinks he doesn't believe in all that existential bullcrap but ever so slightly gets slammed with the reality of it anyway.
Writer/director David O. Russell is one fascinating guy. With a body of work including the really weird and wild Spanking the Monkey the hilarious slapsticky Flirting With Disaster and the intense Three Kings it's obvious he is capable of handling a wide variety of subjects. With Huckabees Russell gets into some serious deep thinking. He says he became "intrigued with the idea of a detective following someone around not for any criminal or personal intrigue but rather as part of a very serious investigation about existence itself " drawing concepts from several different strains of existentialism--from the non-dual interconnectedness theories of Eastern philosophy (Bernard and Vivian's take) to the Sartrean notions of a more meaningless universe that demands a profound individualism (Caterine's point of view). Huh? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it too much. Russell's bone-crushing sense of humor comes shining through--as does his unique vision as the camera is used in new and different ways (especially creative when Albert is trying to find his "Being")--to piece together a wondrous coherent albeit thought-provoking little gem. Oscar gold awaits.