The Fighter Directed by: David O. Russell Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins Rating: R Release Date: December 17, 2010 (Limited)
PLOT: The story of two boxing brothers from Lowell, Massachusetts, Micky Ward and Dick Eklund, and their personal struggles to retain their status as "The Pride of Lowell."
WHO'S IT FOR? This boxing movie has the ability to please non-fans of the sport just as much as those who actually follow the sport. Most importantly, anybody that has ever been wrapped up by a Christian Bale performance should check this one out. For those looking at what films to check out for award season, The Fighter has now been put on that list.
EXPECTATIONS: How would the accents be handled? More importantly, how would this boxing movie be different from other boxing movies? Would Bale's performance fit into my list of "Top 7 Ultimate Christian Bale Roles"?
Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward: It's as if Wahlberg considers his local roots reason enough to not have to change too much. In a cast of chameleons, the Massachusetts native sticks out as the same. He's a hard-headed ruffian with a soft spot, one apt to be embarrassed, or one to fight for self-esteem more than anything else. As for being a boxer, Wahlberg apparently trained for this role for a few years, and it certainly looks like it. Simply enough, Mark Wahlberg looks too much like Mark Wahlberg in this movie. Were it not for his supporting cast mates, The Fighter could have suffered from such a similar simple disregard. Score: 6
Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund: Bale hurls himself into another magnetic metamorphosis, and does not have the duty in this round of being an angry, intense character (who usually shouts a lot). The most intense element of this performance may be Bale’s appearance, as the actor assumes a scrawny shape (though not Machinist thin) with a thin wiry hair and a bald spot. The misfit brother and trainer of Micky, Bale’s character is his own type of underdog, and the more playful opposite to the slightly more serious Micky. Dicky's a wired individual, turning drug highs into sugar highs, and his energy is contagious. With his crack addiction and illegal shenanigans, Dicky is a very flawed character brought to life near-perfectly by what is bound to be Christian Bale’s first Oscar-nominated performance. Score: 9
Melissa Leo as Alice Ward: Her evolution into a compelling conflicted older woman from New England, as started earlier this year by Conviction, is complete. Leo is remarkable as Micky's mother and manager, demonstrating a certain heartbreaking softness underneath her own Lowell-injected ways of tough love. Her portrayal of Alice goes beyond a simple reenactment, especially with her mannerisms - it's a full on embodiment. Score: 8
Amy Adams as Charlene Fleming: She holds her own in a raucous family, and her interactions with the Micky's sisters are pretty interesting. It's relieving to see a character like Charlene not played up so much like a love interest, but as coach in Micky's spiritual ring. Adams' Boston accent is a little rocky, but she sells her general gravitas as this tough but passionate bartender. Score: 7
TALKING: The Fighter uses a documentary crew to frame the story, with brief monologues by Dicky and Micky beginning and ending the film. Though this script choice does have the potential to become cheap, it’s not here, especially with how selfless the documentary crew is. The film does not become a fake documentary by any means, but one that simply features a documentary crew in control of Dicky and Micky’s image. Score: 7
SIGHTS: Cinematic boxing can only hit so hard when the cinematography uses the same angles that HBO does when covering the fights. The choice of shooting the fights in TV quality does provide legitimacy. At the same time it takes away much chance at style, and makes the fights feel like they are smaller events than they should be. Lowell looks raw here, and it's a city that breathes. Score: 6
SOUNDS: Too often, the filmmakers add extra voices to scenes, usually in a way that sounds phony. For example, when someone off-screen is talking to Charlene, the voice is not mixed into the environment, and this moment becomes ultimately plastic. The Fighter soundtrack pumps itself up during boxing moments with Aerosmith and Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with what a Breeders tune thrown in for good measure. Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times" is used perfectly in a scene that cleverly fits the tune's wavering energy. (It's like Russell cut the scene to fit the song.) Jeff Bayer is correct in his review of The Fighter when he says that the brothers' singing of "Here I Go Again" makes for a touching moment - and probably the most emotional use of the Whitesnake song ever. To make the period of the film all the more definite, Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days" is used prominently. Michael Brook’s score is atmospheric, but overshadowed by the film's soundtrack. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: The most flooring moment of The Fighter is the very first scene, which introduces a whole new kind of Bale.
ENDING: The real brothers make their own appearance at the end of the movie, make remarks about their experience with The Fighter, and even thanking "Hollywood People." It's unclear whether this final moment is meant to be heartfelt, or emotional bribery that has no problem in using its real subjects for something (like an awards campaign)
QUESTIONS: Are the sisters meant to be used as complete comic relief, or somewhat tragic characters of their environment?
REWATCHABILITY: Re-witnessing the performances would be enough reason to return to The Fighter for a second time, even if the fights themselves still won't knock you on your ass.
The Fighter tries to pull a few quick tricks on the boxing movie subgenre, but it ultimately feels slightly conventional. The implementation of a working class Massachusetts, the parallel destinies of the two brothers, and the importance of family provide elements that feel fresh for movies about this sport of endurance. It works best as a story about family, love 'em or hate 'em, as anchored by two superb performances from Bale and Leo. The boxing itself is understated in impact – the triumph and aggressive emotions within the movie do not hit the audience’s heart as hard as they should. If you want to talk boxing movies, there’s nothing here that comes close to any goosebumps of pride that flow through one’s blood during a viewing of Rocky. And with the power coming from this true story, such feelings are fair to be expected.
As for presenting the sport, the film’s allegiance to the HBO style cinematography backfires, and struggles with the intimate factor of the movie. Close-ups work better for the film visually than the standard visualization it relies on.
Eventually, even though the movie can be weighed down by expected arcs, etc., boxing is not what keeps The Fighter up. It’s the film’s two performances, as presented by two true heavyweights.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10