Tuesday, October 25, 2011

At the Movies: Real Steel

Real Steel opens with Hugh Jackman driving a beat-up old trailer through Texas farm country.  Eventually, he stops at a state fair of sorts (at this point I couldn't help but think, oh, so he's a carnie . . .) where three smart-mouthed little girls demand to see his larger-than-life fighter robot.  Yes, I said, "robot."  It's the not-so-distant future, and rural America has been set ablaze by the technological triumph of chrome sparring contenders.  Hugh turns out to be Charlie Kenton, a down-and-out ex-fighter losing hard at the robot boxing game.  Alone save for his friend and one-time lover Bailey (Evangeline Lilly), he owes money to everyone and wears a perpetual (and usually dirt-scrimmed) scowl.  Just when it seems like (sorry, but I feel a cliche coming on) "things couldn't get any worse," he finds out that his ex-girlfriend has died, leaving him with an eleven-year-old son that he's never met.  Max (Dakota Goyo) is as sullen as you'd expect such an adolescent to be.   But the boy knows his robots.  Soon he and Charlie are strategizing - and arguing - about what to do next.  They suffer a devastating loss with an expensive new robot before fate intervenes at a junkyard one rainy night and a bedraggled old robot named Atom saves Max's life.  It's soon clear that Atom isn't like other robots.  His mysterious talents and indomitable spirit (if robots have spirits - you decide) force Charlie and Max to learn about each other as he leads them on a grueling and fantastic mission.

Real Steel is unexpectedly tender in parts, an instance made all the more powerful by its contrast to unabashed grit.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  But then, everyone loves an underdog and wants to be a part of his climb.         

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