The Fighter

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A

The Fighter is not a boxing movie. Well, I shouldn’t go that far, but it is a whole lot more than just a boxing movie. It’s a movie about family, a huge family. So large in fact, that it encompasses an entire social and occupational circle. Imagine the difficulty in accepting the reality that the decisions of the people you’ve known and trusted to guide you through every meaningful moment in your life might not have had your best interests in mind.

The boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlbeg) comes from an enormous family in Lowell, Mass. His older brother Dicky (Christian Bale) was the pride of the town decades before when he knocked down Sugar Ray once in a televised boxing match. Mickey also has 7 sisters of varying age and degree of hysterical insanity. Alice (Melissa Leo), the matriarch, rules the family with a cigarette-stained, yellow fist of tough love and rage.

Mickey, following in his brother’s footsteps, is boxing his way through the country’s seediest casinos. He’s earning a name as a tough boxer who can take a punch and knocks opponents around with a cinder block fist. But he’s still looking for the fight that takes him to the next level. Dickey, also Mickey’s trainer, scampers around town still living in the fading light of his past accomplishments. He’s a crack addict and rarely shows up to training sessions on time, if at all. Alice, oblivious to the drug problem, still treats Dickey as the King of Lowell.

Mickey continues getting shellacked, and with a bruised ego and bloody face, Mickey is ready to call it quits until he meets Charlene (Amy Adams). A bartender with a past crammed full of failed dreams as well. Charlene knows Mickey is better off on his own. The movie becomes a struggle of opposing forces, both who think they know what’s best for Mickey.

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The Fighter is another in a recent trend of biopics that try to lure us into a false reality by using the shooting style of a documentary. There are many hand-held shots, the camera wanders about, gets in too close, goes out of focus, it’s supposed to provide a sense of realism. This technique can work, but also ends up as fairly distracting. In this case, the filmmakers lucked out because the brilliant acting is riveting enough on its own, that we don’t focus on such pedantic trivialities of movie snobbishness.

Christian Bale is a fucking fantastic actor. There is no other way to put it. There is seemingly nothing he can’t do, except maybe extend kindness to D.P.’s on set. I kid, I kid. But seriously, he’s been blowing me away since he was age ten or so in Empire of the Sun. This guy is a lock for every major award when he puts on his “acting shoes.” His performance in The Fighter is nothing less than the best supporting performance of the year.

The rest of the cast doesn’t slouch either. Amy Adams strays from her comfort zone, with a strong performance as Mickey’s townie bartender girlfriend. And you can’t go without mentioning the knockout job done by Melissa Leo as Mama Ward, she crushes it and combined with her job in Frozen river last year, she’s going to be landing the best parts for the next few years.

Marky Mark Mr. Wahlberg holds his own as the titular character, but the part was written without a whole lot of movement, he’s the least flashy character on screen. Which doesn’t leave Wahlberg much room to flex his acting muscles. But he delivers on the role as intended and in doing so allows his supporting cast to really shine.

I haven’t rooted for a character in a sports movie this much in a long time. The development of the back story is done with such efficiency and care, the audience is left with no choice but to be emotionally invested. This is so much more than a boxing movie, but compared just on those merits alone, it’s the best of its kind this side of the original Rocky. I have a feeling there will be quite a few nominations for this winter gem.

tags: amy adams, christian bale, david o russell, mark wahlberg, melissa leo

  • Mike M

    yes this is a great movie.

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