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The UnPopular Opinion: The Fighter

Feb. 13, 2013by: Alex Maidy

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.

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg only have one white undershirt between the two of them.  Budget cuts.

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 alexmaidy@joblo.com, 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!

Source: JoBlo.com

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1:56AM on 02/14/2013

Finally

Thank you! I couldn't agree more.
Thank you! I couldn't agree more.
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+3
11:12PM on 02/13/2013
Beyond all the grammatical errors this writer obviously does not know nearly enough about Ward if he's forming these opinions. To repeatedly call his career mediocre is a joke in and of itself. Not only has Ward won the WBU Light Welterweight Title, but he has also been involved in what was named The Ring magazine's fight of the year 3 different times. This movie may not have been based off of Micky's most entertaining part of his career (that being the trilogy with Arturo Gatti), but he has
Beyond all the grammatical errors this writer obviously does not know nearly enough about Ward if he's forming these opinions. To repeatedly call his career mediocre is a joke in and of itself. Not only has Ward won the WBU Light Welterweight Title, but he has also been involved in what was named The Ring magazine's fight of the year 3 different times. This movie may not have been based off of Micky's most entertaining part of his career (that being the trilogy with Arturo Gatti), but he has been mentioned as the modern day Rocky in many circles. Ironically, you list Rocky as one of the many vastly superior movies, when in fact Micky has been dubbed the real life Rocky himself. Maybe the writer just prefers fabricated stories to true stories.
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10:23PM on 02/13/2013

Disagree

The Fighter is a great movie. You can't blame Mark for playing the "straight-man" amongst the more over-the-top members of his family. That's the whole point of this movie. A regular guy trying hard to make something of himself despite the crazy people around him.
The Fighter is a great movie. You can't blame Mark for playing the "straight-man" amongst the more over-the-top members of his family. That's the whole point of this movie. A regular guy trying hard to make something of himself despite the crazy people around him.
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9:49PM on 02/13/2013
I wholeheartedly agree. Over-the-top, over-performed and overrated.
I wholeheartedly agree. Over-the-top, over-performed and overrated.
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11:45AM on 02/13/2013

love the column but NO

I loved the Fighter. After the movie i watched interviews with both mickey and dicky and they both nailed their real-life counterparts. dicky is this obnoxious, attention-needing, big brother that overshadows his more driven, introverted brother.
I loved the Fighter. After the movie i watched interviews with both mickey and dicky and they both nailed their real-life counterparts. dicky is this obnoxious, attention-needing, big brother that overshadows his more driven, introverted brother.
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11:44AM on 02/13/2013

Next time actually watch the movie

I respect your opinion, but its wrong. It is a family story. The thing about Wahlberg's character is he isn't crazy like everyone else in the story. He doesn't start the bullshit, he has to deal with the bullshit all around him. Remember when he walks into the coffee shop and everyone is looking at him and shitting on him because he is guilty by association. That is exactly what you are doing in this column. He is the center of the story because he fucking fails constantly. His brother fucks
I respect your opinion, but its wrong. It is a family story. The thing about Wahlberg's character is he isn't crazy like everyone else in the story. He doesn't start the bullshit, he has to deal with the bullshit all around him. Remember when he walks into the coffee shop and everyone is looking at him and shitting on him because he is guilty by association. That is exactly what you are doing in this column. He is the center of the story because he fucking fails constantly. His brother fucks him over and so does his Mom. He finds a way to do it without them, but brings them back into his life because they are his family and he becomes middleweight champion of the world. How is he not the center when everything that goes down effects him. The whole point of the story is we want to see him fucking win and then he does. The fact that you fault the film for being realistic about how the people influence his life is really confusing. I think you wanted a different movie than you got because of directing and acting changes. Watch the film next time. It's a gem.
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10:50AM on 02/13/2013

I Somewhat Agree

I enjoyed the film but it should not have been a best picture nominee. Christian Bale was great and his performance is the only thing in the film that warrants a second or third viewing. Everything else is just ok.
What is not OK are the grammatical errors in the article. Seems like someone was rushing to make a deadline.
I enjoyed the film but it should not have been a best picture nominee. Christian Bale was great and his performance is the only thing in the film that warrants a second or third viewing. Everything else is just ok.
What is not OK are the grammatical errors in the article. Seems like someone was rushing to make a deadline.
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2:40PM on 02/13/2013
You're going to have to get over grammatical errors at Joblo.com. Editorial rigor is not a mainstay of this site; better to just roll with it.
You're going to have to get over grammatical errors at Joblo.com. Editorial rigor is not a mainstay of this site; better to just roll with it.
1:38AM on 02/14/2013
LuLz
LuLz
10:30AM on 02/13/2013

It's a weird fucking film

I will never understand the love O. Russell gets. The Fighter is one of the cartooniest pieces of Oscar bait I've ever seen. None of the actors are in the same movie - on the one hand you have Christian Bale playing a cracked up Howdy Doody while Melissa Leo artlessly chews whichever scenery dares to get in her way, and then on the other side of the spectrum you have Wahlberg literally doing NOTHING and Amy Adams awkwardly wandering about in all her miscast glory. It is tonally all over the
I will never understand the love O. Russell gets. The Fighter is one of the cartooniest pieces of Oscar bait I've ever seen. None of the actors are in the same movie - on the one hand you have Christian Bale playing a cracked up Howdy Doody while Melissa Leo artlessly chews whichever scenery dares to get in her way, and then on the other side of the spectrum you have Wahlberg literally doing NOTHING and Amy Adams awkwardly wandering about in all her miscast glory. It is tonally all over the shop, it doesn't know what it wants to be. It's a problem with a lot of O. Russell's flicks - never more so than this years absurd Silver Linings Playbook. Awkward, half baked quirk uncomfortably mingled with flaccid drama and contrived story telling. A very strange and limited filmmaker.
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2:39PM on 02/13/2013
I'm guessing you aren't from the Boston area. Almost all of the performances are spot on.
I'm guessing you aren't from the Boston area. Almost all of the performances are spot on.
10:38PM on 02/13/2013
Boston born and bred. Still found it baffling.
Boston born and bred. Still found it baffling.
10:20AM on 02/13/2013
I love 'The Fighter.' Its entertaining as hell, full of little charms, powered by Christian Bale and the character dynamics of the ensemble cast. Its going to be one of those movies I get sucked into watching every time its on TV.

The best part of that flick is the clip during the credits with the real Micky & Dicky, and you see how both Wahlberg & Bale knocked out of the park the dynamic between these brothers.
I love 'The Fighter.' Its entertaining as hell, full of little charms, powered by Christian Bale and the character dynamics of the ensemble cast. Its going to be one of those movies I get sucked into watching every time its on TV.

The best part of that flick is the clip during the credits with the real Micky & Dicky, and you see how both Wahlberg & Bale knocked out of the park the dynamic between these brothers.
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10:12AM on 02/13/2013
I think the point of The Fighter is to show that mediocre champions are champions nonetheless. And Mark Wahlberg have my total respect for bringing the story to Hollywood.
I think the point of The Fighter is to show that mediocre champions are champions nonetheless. And Mark Wahlberg have my total respect for bringing the story to Hollywood.
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9:31AM on 02/13/2013

I have to Disagree

The Fighter definitely deserved the best picture nom, and Bale's performance is oscar worthy
The Fighter definitely deserved the best picture nom, and Bale's performance is oscar worthy
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8:31AM on 02/13/2013
I thought Bale's performance was seriously bizarre in this movie, until I saw the guy the character was based on and then it's like "oh, actually he nailed it".
Thought his sisters were scarily hilarious too - I know families like that.
I don't think this was one of Wahlberg's worst performances - whatever he did was going to feel a bit flat next to his insane family.
I thought Bale's performance was seriously bizarre in this movie, until I saw the guy the character was based on and then it's like "oh, actually he nailed it".
Thought his sisters were scarily hilarious too - I know families like that.
I don't think this was one of Wahlberg's worst performances - whatever he did was going to feel a bit flat next to his insane family.
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8:26AM on 02/13/2013

Don't Agree

I don't agree with this article at all. The movie was not forced at all, it was just really well directed, written, and performed. It also features some of the best performances that Bale and Wahlberg have ever given.

I thought this film was amazing in every way and packed a lot of heart with its story and characters.
I don't agree with this article at all. The movie was not forced at all, it was just really well directed, written, and performed. It also features some of the best performances that Bale and Wahlberg have ever given.

I thought this film was amazing in every way and packed a lot of heart with its story and characters.
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+13
7:15AM on 02/13/2013

I think you might be missing the point of the film

It's about what family will do for each other, and how they will take from, and manipulate one another. He's basically fighting being manipulated by those who are supposed to care about him. The boxing is important, and grounds the story in truth - but it's not trying to be Rocky or Raging Bull. It's like saying Rudy is a Football movie. To the extent to which you weren't getting that, one could argue that the film failed. Of course, to the extent the film was popular, and was understood
It's about what family will do for each other, and how they will take from, and manipulate one another. He's basically fighting being manipulated by those who are supposed to care about him. The boxing is important, and grounds the story in truth - but it's not trying to be Rocky or Raging Bull. It's like saying Rudy is a Football movie. To the extent to which you weren't getting that, one could argue that the film failed. Of course, to the extent the film was popular, and was understood correctly, one could argue that you went in expecting a traditional underdog boxing story and missed everything else going on. Mark Wahlberg's acting style didn't force him to go too far beyond his normal range, but what you are expressing is a highly subjective dislike of his personality and how it comes through in his acting. I could rhetorically make the same type of argument about DeNiro and his tics. This might not be Russell's most memorable movie, but I give him credit for eschewing a lot of his trademark stylistic flourishes. Not many directors are comfortable doing that, once they've used them to establish box-office success. To each their own, but this reads as if maybe you missed the point.
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6:10AM on 02/13/2013
Wahlberg was the bomb in The Departed Yo.
Wahlberg was the bomb in The Departed Yo.
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5:43AM on 02/13/2013

The Fighter wasn't that interesting...

the only good thing about it was Christian Bale and his character. Also, David O. Russell is a bit overrated...
the only good thing about it was Christian Bale and his character. Also, David O. Russell is a bit overrated...
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8:27AM on 02/13/2013
Russell is not overrated. Have you seen Silver Linings Playbook? Great film.
Russell is not overrated. Have you seen Silver Linings Playbook? Great film.
5:38AM on 02/13/2013
Contrary to your opinion, I really like this movie. However, this isn't my favorite movie of Bale. I like him best in American Psycho and The Machinist.
Contrary to your opinion, I really like this movie. However, this isn't my favorite movie of Bale. I like him best in American Psycho and The Machinist.
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5:32AM on 02/13/2013

Serious?

I like this movie, I think its more honest than most sports biopics and has a lot heart, good performances, a good story and is very well directed. Wahlberg's performance grounds the other performances perfectly and without it Bale, Leo and Adams would have been a very unlike-able bunch. But I suppose that is why this segment is called unpopular opinion.
I like this movie, I think its more honest than most sports biopics and has a lot heart, good performances, a good story and is very well directed. Wahlberg's performance grounds the other performances perfectly and without it Bale, Leo and Adams would have been a very unlike-able bunch. But I suppose that is why this segment is called unpopular opinion.
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4:22AM on 02/13/2013

My favorite movie that year by far

Everything works on this movie and I find the directing and acting absolutely brilliant and the story both touching and honest.

Mark Wahlberg is this kind of actor incapable of overact, all is behind the eyes, I think is excellent since Boogie nights times. I can feel every emotion on him. The scene when he and Adams go to the movies to see Belle Epoque and the conversation after is by itself Oscar material.
Everything works on this movie and I find the directing and acting absolutely brilliant and the story both touching and honest.

Mark Wahlberg is this kind of actor incapable of overact, all is behind the eyes, I think is excellent since Boogie nights times. I can feel every emotion on him. The scene when he and Adams go to the movies to see Belle Epoque and the conversation after is by itself Oscar material.
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+7
3:14AM on 02/13/2013
The movie works so well because it's a great underdog story and Mark plays a great underdog. Mark has always done well as the guy you never pull to succeed, but know he can. Here, he plays what I would equate to Rocky (although, not as iconic obviously), but he's a likable guy with more hurdles to cross than support. The entire cast is great in their respective roles, and Mark is really able to carry the lead well because he's in a part that he's good at playing. If you don't like Mark,
The movie works so well because it's a great underdog story and Mark plays a great underdog. Mark has always done well as the guy you never pull to succeed, but know he can. Here, he plays what I would equate to Rocky (although, not as iconic obviously), but he's a likable guy with more hurdles to cross than support. The entire cast is great in their respective roles, and Mark is really able to carry the lead well because he's in a part that he's good at playing. If you don't like Mark, obviously you won't like the film, but despite that, it meshes well as a film about an underdog and most of all about family. This film is all about performances, and if you don't care for them, then it will obviously not be your cup of tea.
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2:32AM on 02/13/2013
Thats funny I don't recall people saying anything negative about this movie? If it's your hatred towards Mark Wahlberg as an actor then thats totally another story. Thought this movie was great & Bale deserved the Oscar. I also feel Wahlberg got screwed for one also. If any similiar genre movie deserves to be in the Unpopular Opinion it's Warrior, I have mixed feelings about that movie, acting was good but the plot is just BS.
Thats funny I don't recall people saying anything negative about this movie? If it's your hatred towards Mark Wahlberg as an actor then thats totally another story. Thought this movie was great & Bale deserved the Oscar. I also feel Wahlberg got screwed for one also. If any similiar genre movie deserves to be in the Unpopular Opinion it's Warrior, I have mixed feelings about that movie, acting was good but the plot is just BS.
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+18
2:27AM on 02/13/2013
Wait, so yourre basically ripping this movie because its based on a true story and is not some made up shit? Of course its featuring a part in the middle of the life of these two characters. The most interesting part by the way. And it showed that not every great athlete is destined to become a legend. Dicky was close but fucked it up using drugs and Micky was always overshadowed by his brother. IMO great movie with one of Bales best performances.
Wait, so yourre basically ripping this movie because its based on a true story and is not some made up shit? Of course its featuring a part in the middle of the life of these two characters. The most interesting part by the way. And it showed that not every great athlete is destined to become a legend. Dicky was close but fucked it up using drugs and Micky was always overshadowed by his brother. IMO great movie with one of Bales best performances.
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