Bale and Wahlberg fight for the top

Film Review
THE FIGHTER
Cert: 15

THE FIGHTER is a snapshot in the lives of two real-life boxing brothers from Lowell, Massachusetts. Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is thoughtful, the wrong side of 30, and watching his dreams of Welterweight domination slowly slip away. His older brother Dicky (Christian Bale), is long-retired. Back in ‘78, he floored Sugar Ray Leonard (for which he is still the Pride of Lowell). Ultimately though, he never capitalised on his vast potential.

The flawed Dicky now trains his brother – or at least he does when he can drag his skeletal frame away from the local crack den. Micky realises that his brother (and meddling manager mother) are holding him back. He needs to sever ties to realise his dreams – but at what price to his relationships?

The family dynamics, the moral dilemmas, small town America: all were hugely convincing. Brilliantly observed details permeate the entire film: Micky’s fights are shot on period cameras which perfectly capture the fuzzy, washed-out colours of mid-’90s sports broadcasts; an HBO documentary crew follows Dicky throughout, just as one did in 1995 (for the astonishingly uninhibited “High On Crack Street”); Micky’s real-life cornerman even plays himself in the movie.

And crucially, while it flirts with the familiarities of other sports films, The Fighter never plunges into the realms of out-and-out cliche. The characters are hugely likable, and the performances superb. With rheumy eyes sunk into a sweating off-white skull, the transformed Bale is brilliant as the jittery and juvenile Dicky. For both him and the movie, the hype and awards are entirely justified.
Tom Latter

RABBIT HOLE
Cert: 12A

RABBIT HOLE tells the tale of Becca and Howie, a married couple dealing with the death of their four year-old son, run over outside their comfortable suburban house eight months earlier.

The film opens with an initially unremarkable domestic tableau. Becca plants a flower in her garden, a neighbour comes round to invite her and Howie to dinner, and inadvertently steps on it. Becca, lying, says they’re busy, and the neighbour leaves. The viewer knows something’s wrong but isn’t yet sure what. Rather than directly telling us, this is the first of a number of clues which slip out until the awful truth gradually dawns.

Rabbit Hole delicately presents a subject which in less subtle hands could be too traumatic for enjoyable viewing. Instead it tries to keep a hold on this trauma, just as Becca and Howie desperately try to keep hold of their grief. The moments when the false tranquillity on the surface is, inevitably, broken are therefore all the more affecting.

Kidman, rightly nominated for an Oscar, is perfect as a bereaved mother not really coping with life after her son’s death, who eventually finds comfort in an unusual source.
Eckhart, meanwhile, is almost better as her seemingly more measured husband.

Honest, beautifully shot and at times very funny, don’t let the painful subject matter put you off a trip to the cinema.
Harriet Noble

Sanctum
Cert: 15

WHO needs star quality, rich characters or an intriguing plot when you’ve got 3-D? Sanctum – this year’s first offering in the caving-action-thriller genre – brazenly leaps aboard the extra-dimensional bandwagon with scant regard for the above frivolities.

In brief: billionaire douchebag Carl funds an expedition into the last great unknown: a vast network of caves that plunges into a South Pacific mountain range and punctures out into the neighbouring ocean. Leading the exploration is grizzled Aussie, Frank, caving obsessive and negligent father to the resentful and oddly bulbous-headed Josh, who’s thrust into his dad’s custody every summer. But whilst down in the belly of the beast, the unthinkable happens: the team gets trapped. Tunnels flood, escape becomes near-impossible, audacious plans are hatched, dad compassionately drowns a native hired hand, oxygen runs out, douchebag gets his comeuppance, dross is uttered, and father and son are slowly brought together.

There can be few films with a a budget of $30m in which there is not a single recognisable face. But it doesn’t matter a jot: the real star is, of course, the 3D technology. One-dimensional characters? Look at the shards of sunlight splintering through the water! Script cluttered with cliches? Behold the aerial shots of the rainforest en route to the cave! Witness the floodwater cascade right towards your eyeballs! Originality? Subtlety? Dialogue? Over-rated. Like a palmful of Xanax, 3-D just makes everything better. And maybe that’s enough? So dial down your expectations to below “127 Hours” and to a touch above “Vertical Limit”, and enjoyment will be yours.
Tom Latter