The Fighter V. The Wrestler: Round Four

Round Four

When it comes to the man behind the camera both films are packing seriously heavy hitters but as they go toe to toe, pound for pound which one’s going to come through?  Russell is something of a cinematic chameleon, from Three Kings to I Heart Huckabees and beyond the Spanking the Monkey director has an ability to bend his style to suit the film and The Fighter is no exception.  The Boston projects offer a hard life for those growing up on them, the stylings of the film reflect this.  Gone are the moments of surrealism (Three Kings) and absurdity (Huckabees) you’d come to expect replaced with a washed out colour palette and a lingering camera, a watchful stranger that’s almost documentarian in tone.  Russell’s image is three separate strands of picture woven into one another to form a strong, unbreakable rope.  The first is the “standard” palette of the narrative, it’s hardened – almost colour and rudimentary.  Intercut with that is the HBO documentary (about Dicky) which adds a level of realism and depth to proceedings and through that the “live” fight style of cinematography.  This is a little short of genius, and one that stitches the audience into the film.  Even in the greatest of boxing movies Raging Bull, Rocky, The Set-Up the audience is aware not necessarily of the cinematic style but the lack of sporting style.  What Russell does is not just shoot the fights “for real” but as they are real, deploying not just commentators but HBO cameramen who live and breathe prize fighting.  It does more for the overall feel and realism of the film than any washed colour palette could ever do.

Like Russell, Aronofsky has a touch of flair to his direction.  His work on Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and Black Swam marry some form of gritty reality, or emotional realism with an artistic sensibility that must declare him a twenty-first century auteur.  Aronofsky’s use of colour is something remarkable.  With a narrative that’s downbeat, some might say bleak, you may expect a palette similar to that of The Fighter but that’s not what The Wrestler does.  The imagery in The Wrestler is almost carnival-like in it’s extravagance and beautiful.  Randy lives in a full contact circus but even though he’s circling the drain there’s never a point when he wishes to be somewhere else.  The cinematography, use of camera and colour all reflect this.  Aronofsky’s decision to start at the end of a hardcore match and work backwards to explain each blow and cut is beautiful.  It’s outrageously cinematic and goes against the very instinct of the pugilist movie.  It works, it shouldn’t but it does and it’s remarkable.  Aronofsky, like his counterpart, shoots the wrestling match (the twenty year rematch) in a close quarters style, with only the odd edit, jump cut or Taxi Driver-esque violation of the fourth wall to tip us off that we’re not watching an episode of Monday Night Raw and is all the more beautiful and graceful for it.

An incredibly close round, each film offers up a powerful rendering of a directors instinctive sensibilities.  Each very different, each distinct, and each as excellent as the other.  It’s almost too close to call but for daring, flair and carnivalesque brilliance Aronofsky comes out ahead by a nose.

The Fighter 1 – 3 The Wrestler


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