David O. Russell: The Fighter

Review: ‘Ticket to Paradise’ has Julia Roberts and George Clooney, and that’s enough to make “a man cry”

There was something different about David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” when it came out in 1997. For one thing, the story was about Muhammad Ali and his trainer, the great Jack Johnson, and not the beautiful girl who played the lead in “Ticket to Heaven” and the next thing you know, “Mr. Ali” was the most popular movie hero in America. It wasn’t long before it became the story for American men who had put their lives in danger to join the war in Vietnam, their parents’ lives on the line, because they believed in a man who had stood against the big guns of the U.S. military.

The script is even more autobiographical: It’s about the first time Russell got to see Julia Roberts in “Ticket to Heaven,” while she was still in college and he was working out the story of how he was drafted into the army. His son was in the audience. There was something poignant about that moment, about the father watching his son being called upon to serve, to fight, to die.

I first met Russell at a dinner party on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This was in 1997, the year he came out of the womb, full of his own self and his own talent, and started to make movies. There’s something about an event like that, that when it happened, it was, in a way, personal and not some anonymous thing.

He was then in his late 20s, tall, with a full head of hair that had an unruly wave, and a leaner, more athletic body. He had a great smile and a huge, easy laugh. He made himself at ease at the most important people’s tables, whether it was with them or with the people they picked on. They were his friends, and he was grateful for every one. I liked him instantly.

But what grabbed my attention was that the last time I saw him standing in the kitchen, eating breakfast, he was wearing a dress, because he was at a party, and that seemed to be the only social aspect of his life. I wanted him to know that all these people whom he was meeting in this important life were people he could count on to take him the way to heaven, and not some other way.

My wife, Linda

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