The Fighter

2011-02-28 11:19
 
The Fighter
What it's about:

Set in the working class town of Lowell, Massachusetts, The Fighter tells the true story of "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer with an unsuccessful record who dreams of becoming a welterweight champion. His trainer is his crack-addicted older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer who once knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard in a televised fight and whose unreliability threatens Micky's chances of winning the title. Their mother Alice (Melissa Leo) is also Micky's manager and when the big-time finally comes calling, Micky has to make a choice between loyalty to his family and his own ambition.

What we thought:

Director David O. Russell's brief filmography reads like a schizophrenic's journal - skittering from absurdist comedy (I Heart Huckabees) to gritty war satire (Three Kings) and The Fighter - despite its straightforward, duh-shucks title - is another step into the wild. It's a rollercoaster ride of complex but familiar dynamics, riveting fight scenes and a more-than healthy supply of straight from the gut belly laughs.

The Fighter is a very surprising movie - it defies all expectations of 'the boxing movie' because, besides telling the real-life story of Micky Ward and his shot at the welterweight title, this is movie that aims to entertain. And with this array of larger-than-life characters at his disposal, Russell takes to his movie like a kid in the world's biggest toy shop. When it comes to drama, and in particular the 'life drama', the compulsion to be respectful to the subject matter can often overshadow a story's true value. All too often the value of pure entertainment as a means of paying the greatest respect to  the story is overlooked.

None has been more guilty of this than the boxing biopic. Where films like Raging Bull, Ali and The Hurricane often felt soul-crushing and grave, The Fighter takes its cue from Rocky and is alive with the joy and disillusionment of chasing a dream. Russell thumbs his nose at the stateliness of the biopic and constructs a movie that portrays its still-living characters in all their flawed, f***ed glory. And the actors are up for anything the script throws at them.

Everyone here disappears into their role. Only Wahlberg seems familiar in the quietly determined lead role. This allows an outstanding Christian Bale to do his method actor 'thing' as the trainer Dicky, an unreliable, lovable live-wire who loves his brother, his son and boxing above all else. No wonder their mother Alice - a bawdy, bleached-blonde firecracker who rules the roost through sheer force of will - is unable or unwilling to acknowledge Dicky's destructive addictions. Bale never plays the same role twice (even the Batman movies allow him to play two different characters) and The Fighter hinges off his every misstep and misdeed, but far from being painted as the villain of the piece, he is grounded through his wonderfully synced, messy but beautiful  relationship with his family. This is a movie that seems to gain greater purpose and power the more this dysfunctional lot wage war against each other.

As Micky fights his way to the title, an HBO production team are shadowing Dicky, filming his day-to-day activities for a documenatary about the-once promising champ, the hometown hero they call "The Pride of Lowell". Dicky says they're documenting his comeback, the crew's interest in his drug use suggests something else. The film crew's presence allows the Ward family to be at their happiest, with Dicky the clown as the centre of attention while Micky works away in the wings, keeping everyone's head above water. It's doesn't seem fair or right, but it works for them.

No-one denies that Alice loves her first-born Dicky more - and then there are her seven daughters. The omnipresent sisters (individual names are never made clear, and it's nearly impossible to tell them apart) are something else, a fearsome cabal of seven backcombed perms, potty mouths and street-fighting attitudes whose fatal devotion to their family would be enough to scare off any newcomer to the fold. So it's especially thrilling to see them band together when Micky's feisty new girlfriend, Charlene (a sexily spunky Amy Adams) encourages him to find a new manager and trainer and win the title without his family holding him back. Sparks fly, as do bits of hair and clothing. These women are rough.

It's rather ridiculous just how much there is to enjoy about The Fighter. When the actual fighting scenes come around, they feel like a welcome break from all the fun. Instead of the now-familiar slow-mo boxing scenes we've seen in countless other movies, Russell opts to keep it real and shoots them as they would be seen during a live TV broadcast. It feels refreshing and immediate, as if we're watching Micky's rise and fall in real-time.

The Fighter is the only one of the 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees that left me beaming, feeling like I was walking on a cloud as I left the cinema. It's a legal high. It is a story made of love, joy and sacrifice without getting sentimental or too self-aware about its heartfelt subject. In fact, the Ward's wouldn't know how to be sentimental. It's also a story that could be considered too light in tone to be taken seriously when it shares the field with fare as dark and deep as Inception, Black Swan and Winter's Bone. But its playfulness is well-earned and at one with these unforgettable characters.

Even if you hate the sight of two men pummelling each other for sport or don't care for biopics in general, then The Fighter offers the ideal opportunity for you to get over it. This is one of the most enjoyable, uplifitng cinematic experiences of the year. Russell and co have delivered a thrilling knock-out.

A thoroughly entertaining and uplifting movie about welterweight boxer "Irish" Micky Ward's title hopes and his battles with his troublesome family, especially his drug addict trainer and brother.
Read more on:    mark wahlberg  |  christian bale  |  movies  |  review

G 2011/02/28 12:36 PM
Saw it on the weekend, loved it. Some powerful acting by Bale, the mom, and I always enjoy Wahlberg.
G 2011/02/28 12:37 PM
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Saw it on the weekend, loved it. Some powerful acting by Bale, the mom, and I always enjoy Wahlberg.
Torque 2011/02/28 1:19 PM
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Christian Bale is epic in the Fighter. My Best Picture most def.
ivy 2011/03/24 5:36 PM
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Awesome... Christian Bale was believable. no wonder he won the oscar. enjoyable watch.
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