30 December 2010 | johnshinnick
It's a sports film that rises above the genre to become something better.
The Fighter is based on the true story of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward's unlikely rise through the ranks to the WBU (World Boxing Union) light-welterweight title.
Micky's story would be a conventional sports film if not for the presence of his half-brother Dicky, a boxer-turned-trainer whose life was screwed up by crack addiction and the petty crimes that associated with that life.
The brother, played by Christian Bale, makes the story interesting and charges it emotionally. Bale bursts from the skin of his character, igniting every frame with his energy (reminding, occasionally of his role as the high-energy boy in Empire of the Sun). As in The Mechanic, Bale lost a lot of weight preparing for the gaunt crack-addicted brother. He was 100 per cent convincing.
Bale's character, Davy, exudes personality every time he enters a room or walks down a street. You know he is a drug-addled screw up and you know he is going to mess up his brother's life, but the brother loves him and is loyal to him so you want to see Davy rise above his problem.
One of Bale's best scenes was shot on the front porch of the house where Charlene, Micky's girlfriend (played by Amy Adams) lives. Clean and sober after eight months in prison, Dicky carries a ton of baggage to that porch. He has hurt people. He has conned neighbors. He has disappointed everyone but his mother and his half brother. The entire town of Lowell, Massachusetts remembers Dicky as a boxer ("The pride of Lowell") but they also remember him being addicted to crack, so nobody is prepared to believe he has gotten past the addiction during his eight months in prison.
On the porch, Micky, knowing that he carries that baggage, wants to charm Charlene and patch things up for his brother. Charlene, however, is fueled by her complete distrust of Davy. She loves Micky and she has seen Dicky mess up Micky's life over and over again. On the porch, she has just walked away from Micky because he insists on being loyal to Dicky. No way is she going to be easily convinced that Davy has changed.
She is skeptical of every word to come from Dicky's mouth, but Dicky pulls out all the stops in an effort to overcome his baggage and connect with her to make things right for his brother.
The immovable object meets the irresistible force. It is a fine scene.
Amy Adams is equally amazing in this film. As an actor, she is gutsy. Even when she started to command bigger paychecks, she continued to make independent films and bring to those indie films performances that made them better than they might have been. She never shies from a challenge. In this role she plays a worldly bartender who flunked out of college despite a full scholarship in high jump. As an athlete, she can understand with Micky.
In the final analysis, it is Amy Adams who makes the chemistry work between Charlene and Micky. Wahlberg can be as wooden as Ben Affleck when it comes to romantic subtleties. Amy Adams in this role is like one of those good dancers on Dancing With The Stars who has to work with a partner who might as well be a post or a tree stump. While Wahlberg is unmoving, Amy Adams' performance reaches out and emotionally draws the scenes together.
The Fighter has dimension to it, and a lot of the depth from the supporting cast.
The mother played with conviction by Melissa Leo. She runs a family home surrounded by seven adult daughters, and all seem to either be living at home or visiting their mother a lot. The sisters are a hoot, sort of like a Greek chorus on a living room couch. Highly emotional, the sisters hate Micky's girlfriend. I loved them because there was something fascinatingly hideous about the sisters.
Rocky, Raging Bull, Ali, Million Dollar Baby, and Cinderella Man are all fight films that have taken the viewer where The Fighter goes. No surprise there. Micky, as you expect, gets the crap beaten out of him. He struggles through the rank. He gets his shot at a title and he enters the ring against a better boxer to compete for a world championship. The sports genre always travels down a well-beaten path and always takes us to a happier place. Every sports film tells this oft-told tale. You enjoy the genre because getting there is what makes sports films a pleasure.
The Fighter benefits from the fact that it is not just a sports film but a story of family and redemption. You family is important, addiction is not unbeatable. The Fighter is a feel good film with a lot of ugly stuff to overcome.
IAlthough I put The Fighter along side most of the other boxing films, it could have been a lot better. If Micky had been more three-dimensional, the film might have been a classic. The elements are there, struggle and redemption. It's a true story with a lot of subtext, and that alone makes it better than Rocky. Unfortunately, Wahlberg is no DeNiro so it's no Raging Bull, and the script isn't up to Million Dollar Baby.
That said, The Fighter is worth seeing. You'll like it for the performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and character actors whose faces you'll recognize from dozens of other films and television performances. You will love it for the feel-good arc, the love and redemption that are built into this genre.
If you like boxing, you'll love the action. The camera work in the ring scenes is first rate and convincing. On the big screen, you feel every punch.
However, if you are of that generation that hates boxing but likes cage fighting, there's no hope for you, sorry