Film Friday: ‘Real Steel’ and ‘The Ides Of March’

by W. Andrew Powell
Hugh Jackman in Real Steel

Hugh Jackman in Real Steel

Hugh Jackman in Real Steel

New releases in theatres this weekend: Hugh Jackman shows off his parenting and boxing skills opposite his young co-star Dakota Goyo in Real Steel; and George Clooney and Ryan Gosling star in the intense political drama, The Ides Of March.

Real Steel [IMAX]
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anthony Mackie, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis
Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: 7.5/10

Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy ventures in a new direction with the metal-fisted next generation sports drama, Real Steel, about a father and son forced together for a few months as they try to earn some cash at the brawling sport of robot boxing.

Set mostly among the grimy lower echelons of the robot boxing leagues, where robots don’t seem to walk away from the matches, Real Steel is technically a fight to the death for its warriors, which can be a costly venture for the down-and-out veteran boxer, Charlie, played by Hugh Jackman.

The film opens with our lowly friend Charlie, who seems to have left his best days behind him, bringing his monolithic-looking robot boxer to a state fair where the fight is against–get this–a bull. Somehow this is the kind of fight that would only seem fair in the southern states, perhaps, because by all accounts it’s a fight that looks all wrong to me while the cowboy-hat totting crowd in the film eats it up. This heralds Charlie’s further descent into absolute moral and financial poverty that sees him sell his newly discovered son, Max, played by Dakota Goyo, to a relative.

All Charlie has to do to collect his money is spend the next few weeks with Max, so Charlie uses his devilishly earned cash to buy a new robot boxer, and then heads off on the road with Max in tow.

On the dirty road trip, the father and son find some common ground taking care of their fighter, especially when they end up stumbling upon a stalwart older model machine named Atom, who is a little different than all the other robot boxers, and makes Max think he can take on any opponent with his new-found toy.

Based on the concept, and maybe even the trailers, the surprise is that the boxing takes a bit of a back seat to the story of Charlie and Max bonding and facing new challenges toegther. It’s a father-son drama mixed up with some comedy and a little rock ’em, sock ’em action in the ring.

Featuring Evangeline Lilly as Bailey, Charlie’s best friend and would-be girlfriend, and Kevin Durand as the moderately villainous Ricky, Real Steel is much more about the people than the robots, but it’s a little muddled because it’s trying to be a few too many things at once. Singly, the drama, comedy and action coome across quite strong, but as a film the story doesn’t flow perfectly.

The bigger problem with Real Steel though is that, for all the punch it packs, it’s written for the teenagers out there more than anyone else, and the dialogue can be a bit hard to sit through. What saves the film is that, not only is Jackman brilliant as this muddled character, but Goyo is absolutely a scene-stealer. Together they’re a fantastic combo that makes even the weaker scenes all right. Watching Goyo, it’s easy to see why he was picked for this role since he seems to sweep you along with his character thanks to his remarkable charm.

Although I still wish Levy had found more reality to ground Real Steel in, especially in terms of dialogue, this is a well-above average action drama, and it’s a surprisingly fresh as well.

The Ides Of March
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: George Clooney

Actor-turned-director George Clooney pulls double-duty once again in the political drama, The Ides Of March, a gritty, scandal-ridden tale of one politician and his bid in the presidential race.

Clooney stars as Governor Mike Morris, a candidate who has a shining public image, but behind closed doors there is a scandal brewing and his fresh faced press secretary, Stephen, played by Ryan Gosling, will have to get his hands dirty if he wants to make it through the tough world of election politics, not to mention if he wants to get his boss elected.

Debuting last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, with all the stars in attendance on the red carpet, the film has some fantastic buzz going for it and is already expected to pull in a few Oscar nominations.

Rex Reed of the New York Observer wrote of the film, “Like the nonfossil fuel alternatives Mr. Clooney pushes in his campaign rhetoric, the adrenalin rush of The Ides of March provides a sexy alternative to most mainstream political movies about dirty politics. Others dip. This one soars.”

Steven Rea was likewise impressed, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “The Ides of March wields its searchlight over our political landscape and finds a battlefield: a bloody ground of cynicism and fatal compromise.”

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