Thursday, April 21, 2011

REVIEW: The Fighter (2010)

Art imitating life, imitating art, imitating life. The Fighter (2010) is the most recent film in a long line of “Cinderella” stories to captivate audiences.  It is based on the true rags to riches story, highlighting the career of former welterweight world champion, “Irish” Micky Ward. The film’s success is not only attributed to the competent results of the production, including the performances by the cast, technical achievements by the crew, or creative decisions by the writers and director, but also the realistic and relatable subject matter. The story appeals to a broad demographic of blue-collar urban and suburban lifestyles. The film is also littered with brutality that allows the audience to relieve its uncheck aggression from their daily lives vicariously through the characters on the screen. All of these elements have been packaged together on the screen before in films such as Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and Cinderella Man (2005), proving that this is a well-established sub-genre.

The film begins and ends with a mock documentary setting where Dick Eklund (Christian Bale) is praising both himself and his brother, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) for their respective accomplishments in the field of boxing. Aside from that narrative detour the film follows a straight third person insight with no further breaking of the fourth wall. The film compiles events in Ward’s life to make a turbulent, engaging, and more linear dramatic narrative. His losing streak, broken hand, and comeback are key points that coincide with his brother’s appearance on the HBO documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell (1995) and incarceration.

Bale in Jail
Although the film is about Micky Ward and his boxing career that aspect actually takes a back seat to the story about his relationship with his half-brother, Dicky. Actually the film shows how Ward’s entire family affected his career for good and bad. His relationships with his mother, who was his manager, his brother, who was his trainer, and his sisters, who act as sort of a familial jury are all completely toxic. It was his father who took Micky’s best interests to heart and helped him get his career back on track. But the heart of the picture is the relationship, love and respect for this pair of brothers. It is established very quickly that Dicky’s career, short lived as it was, had a tremendous impact on Micky growing up and led him down his life path. When things start to go south for Dicky it is hard for Micky to walk away and even once he does he can’t ignore his brother’s advice. There are strong themes about family, loyalty, and love throughout the film and the struggles and sacrifices that people make for each.

Knowing that the film is based on real people and events is what gives The Fighter its strength. When compared to other recent films with similar themes, such as The Wrestler (2008), even though it’s a different sport there are similar themes, The Fighter knocks it out. For starters, The Wrestler is a little too melodramatic and comes off like a forced tragedy. It simply tries to hard to showcase the hardships endured by the professionals of that field and while it is realistically portrayed, turning the title character into a blind martyr weakens the entire film. It is an overrated, fictional downer when compared to the realistic triumphs over adversity present in The Fighter. The practical approach to the dramatic elements in the story makes it a more uplifting and inspiring tale on many different levels.

Christian Bale
Honorary Congeroid
However, in many ways the story, when stripped down to its essence, has been done a million times before and is quite mediocre. It’s the characters and performances that really set The Fighter apart from the pack. From the very first shot Christian Bale steals the show. His accomplishments and acclaim as an actor are widely known, but his performance as Dick Eklund really does stand out as one of his best. His total immersion into the character is remarkable to witness and is on par with his role in The Machinist (2004), just in terms of physical transformation. Add into it his motor mouth juvenile personality and you’d swear he was the local lowlife stalking your neighborhood. Melissa Leo definitely holds her own as Ward’s mother, Alice. Just as Bale, she does a magnificent job of shedding her personal persona and embodying her character to the point of sympathetic revulsion. To see the two of them in a scene together begs the question, “Why are they making a film about these people?” because their performances are so genuine that its like watching people you know, but wish you didn’t, on the screen. Both Bale and Leo wound up winning Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards at the Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globes and Oscars for their portrayals. That’s not to say the rest of the cast didn’t deliver, but their extreme personalities both elevate the tension and attract the viewer’s attention. Mark Wahlberg plays the most naturally suited role of his career next to the naïve Eddie Adams, aka Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights (1997) and Amy Adams takes her first step towards a larger acting world. Other performances of note include Jack McGee as Ward’s father and Mickey O’Keefe, who played himself, as Ward’s mentor and trainer.

This production marks the third time that Wahlberg has worked with director David O. Russell, the first being Three Kings (1999) and the second being I Heart Huckabees (2004). The Fighter marks the first that Russell hadn’t generated the source material for their collaboration and instead was chosen by Wahlberg, who is also a producer of the film. Having no personal investment in the story allowed Russell to focus solely on the technical set ups for capturing the action of the story. The result is a well made film of an average story with amazing performances. The Fighter was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on March 15, 2011.

******* 7/10


  1. Yeah!!! You know Bale hangs out at the "Cannon" in town, looking tough and for trouble!!!

  2. Well written. I really dig this review! Makes me want to go see the movie now... and possibly stake out the "Cannon" for a glimpse of a local lowlife.