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Two New Film Reviews: The King's Speech, & The Fighter
Two reviews: The King's Speech & The Fighter.
The King's Speech: (4 stars)
Films surrounding historical events tend, for the most part, to be large and epic in scale. Considering the period when The King's Speech takes place (with Europe on the verge of the second world war) , it's to the credit of director Tom Hooper that he takes the unique tact of making a small and very personal film which takes place in the shadow of colossal events.
Our story begins in the 1930s. Colin Firth plays Prince Albert, AKA "Bertie", a man with no royal pomposity or any desire to be the king. However, his ailing father, the formidable King George the 5th (Michael Gambon, best known as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films) realizes that this unassuming young man may indeed have to step into history as the next king, because George's eldest son, Prince Edward (Guy Pearce) is an irresponsible fool who is engaged in a scandalous affair with an 'undesirable' American woman, and may not been determined fit by Parliament to assume the role of King. Berty realizes, to his terror, that he may actually have to become King.
The problem is that Bertie is a stutterer. As a prince and Duke, he could remain out of the limelight, but if he became king, he'd have to speak to the nation, and public speaking is his biggest fear. Old King George always knew that Bertie was the better man of the brothers; but once radio came, Bertie was neutralized by his speech impediment. Bertie is a great man who can't express himself verbally.
Bertie's devoted and adoring wife Elisabeth (Well played by Helena Bonham Carter) encourages Bertie to visit several speech therapists, most of whom are quacks that give irresponsible advice such as telling Bertie to smoke more because it relaxes the throat. In desperation, Elisabeth seeks the help of a little known but highly recommended speech teacher and failed actor Lionel Louge (Brilliantly portrayed by Geoffrey Rush). Louge, being an Australian, has mixed feelings about the monarchy of the time but he comes to really like Bertie and realizes that if he is to cure the Prince, he must form a personal relationship of equals. This is hard for Bertie to adjust to because he has been told all his life that he must stand apart from and above the commoners. He has trouble getting past tradition.
Bertie's father dies and, as expected, new King Edward is de-throned by the Parliament because of his relationship with Mrs. Simpson. Bertie reluctantly becomes King George the sixth, just as Hitler has invaded Poland and war is inevitable. The British Empire is looking to the king of England to make a rousing speech. At this time, a quarter of the world's population was part of Great Britain, and the rest of the free world would be listening, as would the enemy. This speech had to be marvelous and perfect. Can Lionel help the new King overcome his stutter to deliver the all-important address?
Despite the global ramifications of the story, Hooper keeps it all very intimate, using mostly Interior shots. There are lots of claustrophobic scenes that take place in small rooms, which echoes the panic that Bertie is feeling as the weight of his responsibility looms over him.
Colin Firth is vulnerable and likable as the surprisingly unassuming new King, who never wanted anything more than to live quietly with his family while his brother and father ran the country but finds that fate has other ideas. Helena Bonham Carter (playing the mother of current English Queen Elisabeth) is the ultimate loyal wife and Queen. Geoffrey Rush is amazing as the slightly disrespectful therapist who comes to like the king and sincerely wants to help him.
The best thing about this film is that the three main characters are so nice and likeable. It's a pleasure to be with these people for two hours, and you'll find yourself rooting for the good-natured Bertrie, who fights a brave private battle with grace and dignity.
The Fighter: (3 stars)
Boxing films are a tried-and-true film genre, which has provided many great films. The best boxing films are the ones that parallel the hero's personal struggles outside the ring with his in-ring battles. Director David O. Russel's The Fighter not only gives us the main character's difficult journey, it also tells us about his brother, who has an even more troubled life.
Based somewhat loosely on a true story, the Fighter tells us the tale of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a welter-weight fighter from the 1990s who has been on a loosing streak because of bad management. His career is being supervised by his older, half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) a burnt-out ex-boxer who is now a crack addict. Dickie keeps talking about an intended comeback, and bragging about how he knocked down the great Sugar Ray Leonard back in the day. Dicky can't help stealing the limelight from Micky and he is often missing-in-action when he should be coaching his younger brother.
Micky's other manager is his overbearing, chain-smoking mother Alice (Melissa Leo) who doesn't know as much about boxing as she thinks she does, and is subconsciously sabotaging Micky's career because she doesn't want him to overshadow Dickie, who is her favorite child. Micky also has seven free-loading, white-trash sisters (from different fathers) who don't seem to do anything except stir up trouble.
Micky is having a crisis of identity about who he is and what he should do with his life when he meets pretty barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams) who becomes immediately invested in Micky's life. She realizes that Micky's dysfunctional family is dragging him down but Micky is torn between family and self-interest. Even when Micky's career takes a turn for the better, the clan is still there to cause distruptions.
The character of Micky is very bland but intentionally so. He is a silently tormented character surrounded by gregarious people who are trying to control him. He is never sure whether he is doing the right thing or not, so he continues to suffer in silence. In a novel, this would make him a very interesting protagonist. However, since this is a film, he doesn't make a particularly dynamic hero.
Christian Bale gives a tour-de-force, somewhat over-the-top performance as the self-destructive Dicky, who is lives in the past, when he isn't stoned. When a film crew follows him around to do a documentary on his tragic downfall, his false pride causes him to lie and tell people that they are filming his intended comeback.
The fights here don't match the kinetic energy of the boxing scenes in the Rocky films or Raging Bull. Micky doesn't have much style as a fighter. He's as bland in the ring as he is out of it. Ultimately, we don't care for him the way we cared for Rocky Balboa, or Randy the Ram in The Wrestler. However, the performances are strong and there's a powerful anti-drug message here.