The UnPopular Opinion: The Fighter
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
With the Oscars approaching in a few weeks, I began thinking back to the critically lauded films of the last few years. Like many of you, I felt the majority of nominees were rightly recognized while a few films were snubbed. One movie that I felt should never have been nominated for Best Picture was David O. Russell's THE FIGHTER. A movie that feels like the template for Oscar Bait, THE FIGHTER contains one excellent performance, a couple decent ones, and Mark Wahlberg. Few movies disappointed me as much as THE FIGHTER and I still struggle to see why it is routinely considered one of the best movies, sports-related or otherwise, of the last few years.
First off, when you are telling the story of the rise and fall of a character, you better have your star more prominent that his supporting cast. Mark Wahlberg had been wanting to tell the story of Micky Ward for years, calling him a local sports hero. Bringing the story to fruition as a film was hard, which could be because it really is not that exciting of a story to begin with. Micky is just a mediocre boxer from the poor town of Lowell, Massachussets who dream of making it big. Instead, he is surrounded by hangers on, including his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), his mother (Melissa Leo), and a band of sisters who are basically the Mini Me versions of his mother. The line bright spot is his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) who upsets the balance in his family.
Look at that cast and look at who was nominated for performances in the film. That's right: everyone except for Wahlberg. If I go back through Marky Mark's filmography, there are numerous movies that I really like and none are due to his performance. The only exceptions seem to be his comedic roles (I HEART HUCKABEES, TED, and THE OTHER GUYS) while his dramatic performances feel like his is just playing himself with varying degrees of yelling or whispering to relay emotion. Christian Bale is truly stellar in this movie but one performance does not save an entire film.
THE FIGHTER, in the end, really is the story of Dicky, not Micky. The title can represent Dicky's attempts to get past his addiction and make his way back to the boxing ring. When you center your film on the supporting characters, you never become invested in the central protagonist. So, the movie ends up being a tribute to these two fighters who never really achieved anything beyond mediocrity. The movie comes to a close and you feel like you just watched an episode in the middle of their lives. It never truly begins and it never really ends. It just stops and we are left to wonder why we should care.
I imagine David O. Russell making this face during the entire production.
I guess THE FIGHTER is just too on the nose. It tries to be a movie about a common guy becoming a legend, but skips the legend part. It feels like the story of some drunk guy in the bar in your hometown telling you about his shot at the big time. Yes, THE FIGHTER could have been a contender if it just gave a shit. The movie feels forced and resorts to the most basic and cheap ploys to make us feel like it is telling a powerful story. The movie takes place in Massachussets and features the song "Back in the Saddle" by Boston natives Aerosmith when Micky starts to make his comeback (ahem, back in the saddle?). Weak, David O. Russell. Just weak. If I want an underdog story that truly goes somewhere and hits the right notes, I will watch RAGING BULL, ROCKY, or CINDERELLA MAN.
Why yes, Micky, the curtains do match the drapes.
David O. Russell has turned out some movies I have really loved. His first movies, SPANKING THE MONKEY and FLIRTING WTH DISASTER are templates for the 1990s indie comedy genre. Once he made THREE KINGS, he elevated to another level of director, one who could tell a great story with great visuals. But, that is when his temper alienated him from certain stars. Starting with George Clooney and later Lily Tomlin from I HEART HUCKABEES, Russell showed himself to be a bit of a primadonna. But, his directing skills and screenwriting abilities made up for his attitude. With THE FIGHTER, Russell stepped in after Martin Scorsese passed on the project and Darren Aronofsky dropped out to make the far superior movie THE WRESTLER. Directing from someone else's script shows as THE FIGHTER appears merely workmanlike with nothing truly inspired to make it stand out.
This year's SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK rightly deserves the nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. it tells a similar underdog story but benefits greatly from Russell's wordplay. He feels more invested in Bradley Cooper's character than he ever did in Mark Wahlberg's in THE FIGHTER. While I would never expect SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK to win the top prize in a few weeks, it is vastly superior to THE FIGHTER in every way. THE FIGHTER is the lowest point in David O. Russell's career.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!