Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Fighting Fear

Fighting Fear
Dir. Macario De Souza
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 85mins

The worlds of mixed martial arts and competitive big wave surfing come together in wildly melodramatic and frequently homo-erotic ways in Macario De Souza’s Fighting Fear. Coming from one of the co-director’s of Bra Boys and featuring a couple of that high-grossing documentary’s featured personalities, you surely already know what you’re getting into and we more or less get it. Whether that’s a good thing or not is ultimately up to you. To say that there are a lot of biffo, bonza, brooding, brawling, bogan blokes in Fighting Fear is an understatement, but their so-called larrikin charm quickly wears out its welcome. It’s easy to grow tired of these leather-skinned, thick-necked, scruffy-faced surfer dudes talking about “taking chances”, “confronting death” and, yes, “fighting fear” as they try and catch the ultimate wave or swing the proverbial killer right hook.

De Souza’s film was never going to be an evenly balanced portrait of the lives of Mark Mathews and Richie “Van” Vaculik – he is their friend after all – but the obvious manner with which he goes about sprinkling his film with odious platitudes is startling. It’s disconcerting when Fighting Fear spends more time stroking sympathy for Vaculik’s thuggish character (he rushes to be by the bedside of his ex-girlfriend’s cancer-stricken mother) than recognising that he, um, ya know, tried to beat a guy to a bloody pulp. That they have tried to make amends is commendable, but by pushing the film’s legitimately interesting subject matter to the side in favour of repetitive like whoa look at him surf that big wave moments is frustrating and tiresome.

Beginning with rather naff childhood re-enactments – not to mention the ridiculous torn photograph imagery that elicited stifled laughs out of my friend and I – Fighting Fear sadly goes nowhere unexpected. Written with all the finesse of a child editing a Wikipedia entry and narrated with monotone dullness by its heroes, this documentary is rarely enlightening enough about anything other than the ever-changing length of Vaculik’s chest hair. Occasional narrated by Joel Edgerton (in a nice bout of cross-promotion with the mixed martial arts themed Warrior) with barely an ounce of self-awareness – these men are labelled “heroes” and “super-human larrikins” – it’s as if it’s all just one big circle jerk that somebody got projected onto a cinema screen.

I guess because they’re such true blue blokes – they surf with an inflatable crocodile to commemorate the death of Steve Irwin, I am not making that up! – I’m meant to dismiss their roguish nature, but I can’t. Especially when they’re as dull as this. Many of the men that pop up throughout Fighting Fear may be good looking if you’re into that sort of look (hey, I certainly am), any appear is quickly erased the moment they speak.

Perhaps if the film had any interest in really investigating why they became that way, rather than blithely papering over it with weak excuses (divorce!) and glossy camerawork I could forgive some of its less obvious faults. The surfing footage is impressive, that’s a fact, but by the time an excessive epilogue pops up at film’s end it has long since lost its novelty value. Much like the media in general, Fighting Fear just glazes over the bad times in the mad rush to hail sporting personalities as the closest thing to the second coming of Jesus Christ we’re ever likely to see. By all means, I’m sure the story of Mathews and Vaculik would make a great tale for these guys to tell their mates as they sit around a barbecue in their quieter years, but as a feature length documentary it lacks the pizzazz and the spunk required to be anything more than a glorified slice of misguided idol worship masquerading as cinema. D

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