Review: The Fighter
PLOT: The true story of boxer Irish Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who at age thirty-one, became an unlikely champ under the tutelage of his brother, Dickie (Christian Bale), a former contender-turned-crack addict.
REVIEW: Who doesn't love a great film about boxing? Hollywood certainly does, as it's territory they've been mining to great success for years. With THE FIGHTER, we've got yet another great boxing picture to rank alongside the best of the genre, including KID GALAHAD, the John Garfield masterpiece BODY & SOUL, ROCKY, & RAGING BULL.
Star Mark Wahlberg's been trying to get THE FIGHTER off the ground for the better part of a decade, and judging from the finished film, it`s easy to see why. THE FIGHTER has it all: family drama, bone-crunching action in the ring, romance, and a classic underdog story at it`s heart. It`s probably a good thing it took so long to get off the ground, as I don`t think there`s another director who could have made as good a film out of the material as David O. Russell.
Russell gets a lot of grief due to his occasionally less than courtly demeanour on the set (his I HEART HUCKABEES meltdown is a viral classic), but you've got to respect the guy`s talent. While I enjoyed I HEART HUCKABEES for what it was, THE FIGHTER feels like Russell`s true follow-up to the now classic THREE KINGS, and something that I think is going to re-establish him as one of the great directors of his generation.
What`s interesting about his technique with THE FIGHTER, is that it`s filmed like a docu-drama, with nary a single moment in the film coming off as anything less than one hundred percent authentic. In the early-nineties, HBO made a documentary about crack-addiction that profiled Dickie Eklund, and this makes up a big chunk the the first half of the film. We get a lot of re-enactments of real scenes from the doc, but even once that plot thread resolves itself, Russell keeps the documentary feel going, with his one concession being the selection of great rock tunes that make up the soundtrack. Especially noteworthy is a long sequence scored with the great Led Zeppelin track, 'Good Times, Bad Times'. Russell also gets points for making the great Whitesnake power ballad, 'Here I Go Again' Mickey's ring-entry song.
The documentary technique extends to the boxing sequences, which seem to be re-creations of the way the actual bouts where shown on HBO back in the day. There`s not a lot of fancy camera-work going on, which is a trap a lot of other directors might have fallen into. The long shots also prove that Wahlberg is doing all his own fighting, and that there's no Hollywood trickery going on here.
Like THREE KINGS, and even HUCKABEES, Russell manages to pull yet another great performance out of star Mark Wahlberg. While Bale`s got the showier part as crack-head Dickie, Wahlberg has to underplay his role, as the soft-hearted, introspective Mickey, and he does so brilliantly. This is really the best Wahlberg's been since his amazing run in the late-nineties, and an award-worthy performance. It helps that Wahlberg also put in a lot of work to look the part of a middle-weight boxing champ, which probably meant he actually had to scale down his muscle mass somewhat, as in some of his action flicks, he looked more like a heavyweight. Wahlberg truly looks every inch the fighter Mickey Ward was, which in itself is an incredible achievement.
That said, I`m not surprised Bale`s getting all the award buzz, as he definitely gets the chance to chew more scenery as Dickie. To be honest, I really thought Bale was overplaying the part, until Russell cuts to some footage of the real Dickie during the credits, which proved Bale imitated him perfectly. Once again, you`ll marvel at the way Bale`s changed his physique for the role, with him looking every bit the skinny, sickly crack-head, with big chunks of his hair also being cut out to make him look like he`s balding. Most importantly, Bale and Wahlberg are totally believable as siblings, and their chemistry is spot on.
The other big showy part goes to Melissa Leo, as Dickie, and Micky`s crazy mother Alice, who constantly micromanages one son (Mickey), to earn back glory for the other (Dickie). She`s actually quite an appalling character at times, although Russell and Leo don`t fall into the trap of making her a two-dimensional monster, and rather give you a multi-faceted performance. That said, she`s still pretty damn frightening, especially when she brow-beats her mensch of a husband (RESCUE ME`s Jack McGee), while surrounded by her nine equally crazy daughters. Yikes.
As for Amy Adams, well, what can I say? I absolutely adore this woman, and she's terrific as Mickey's love interest, the street-smart bartender, Charlene. In many ways, she plays the bravest person in the film, as she's the only one with the guts to stand up to Leo's Alice, and call things they way she sees them. Heck, she even gets in a few punches of her own after being called an "MTV girl" a few too many times by one of Wahlberg's annoying sisters. This is quite the departure for Adams, who typically plays idealized, angelic types. Here, while still undeniable beautiful and kindly, she's also tough as nails when the moment calls for it. Like everyone else, she nails it, and really helps ground the film, which easily could have gotten carried away in some of the more overwhelming personalities portrayed on-screen.
I really can't oversell THE FIGHTER, as this truly is a phenomenal piece of work that more than lives up to the great buzz we've been hearing over the last few months. It's one of the big award contenders this season, and certainly one of the best films of the year. Heck, even if you don't like boxing, THE FIGHTER is still a must see, and frankly, I can't wait to see it again!
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|Extra Tidbit:||Certainly a film for my TOP 10. But which number?|