Yes, I’m aware that we’re 5 days from the end of the year and I haven’t put up the Film Fight for October yet. If you’d like to believe so, pretend to yourself that I was merely building dramatic tension.
First up, Warrior is something of an anomaly as far as fight movies go: it tries very hard to have a plot, beyond the obvious underdog story of so many of its peers. It’s not entirely successful, but the story of a broken family, an emotionally dead marine, a drunk father, and a brother going under financially at least stand out. That said, the main focus was always going to be the fights themselves and it’s here that the film does very well. It manages to show the MMA at its best: a mix of brutish power (as exemplified by Tom Hardy) and extremely technical floor and locking work (as shown by Joel Edgerton). It doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of the sport and is all the better for it. Not a classic, by any stretch, but a worthwhile watch. (See my Warrior Twitter review).
Real Steel manages to surprise, not by building a great film, but by being so damn entertaining. The writing is poor, with both the structure and dialogue being overly formulaic and cheesy. The actors put in an okay performance, even though the romance between Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lilly falls flat at every turn. None of that doesn’t seem to matter too much, though, because by the end you’ll be cheering for the little silent robot to beat its Goliath-like rival. It builds up so much hope and optimism that you can’t avoid getting hopeful yourself. A feel-good, family film. (See my Real Steel Twitter review).
Kevin Smith has done some classic work, mostly in the comedy and indie space, with Clerks and Chasing Amy rightfully taking their places as classics. Red State is something quite different: it’s part-horror, about kidnapping by outsiders (in this case an extreme religious cult), and part-satire, about how some governments have historically handled a siege situation. The two halves don’t marry up perfectly, with the switch seeming like two unrelated films being shoved together. The satire feels a little heavy-handed in places, and could have worked a little better by doing a little more showing, and less telling. The performances throughout, however, are excellent; veering madly between keen observation and scenery-chewing fervour that works perfectly; Michael Parks puts in a particularly notable performance as the pastor at the centre of the film. Very good. (See my Red State Twitter review). Note: this is the only film I’ve ever admitted into the Film Fight that I didn’t see at the cinema. I saw it on Netflix while I was in the US, whilst it was just exiting the cinema in the UK, making it a special case.
Finally, Moneyball is better than most sports films, at least, for someone who has little interest in sports. It follows a small baseball team giving up on the traditional ways of finding talented players (which are too costly) and instead going for a statistical approach. It manages to find just enough heart in all of this to make us care about the pressures of the general manager, and the players he buys who would otherwise be overlooked. It doesn’t do enough to make us care enough about an awkward final 30 minutes, where not much happens and then the film ends abruptly. Likeable, but with serious pacing issues. (See my Moneyball Twitter review).
Making my final pick for this month was tough, but I think the winner is Red State largely due to the excellent cast.