Title: The Fighter (2010)
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Movies about boxing always work because they serve as a metaphor for life. You know how sometimes you feel like putting on some boxing gloves and punching life right in the face and knocking it the hell out? That’s what boxing movie do for ya. They make you feel like a winner. Its why films like the Rocky franchise have survived for as long as they have, the struggle of life translates well to these films and you feel like that boxer up there, giving it your best to beat life. Ever been in a theater during one of these films? There’s a reason why people holler at the screen during these boxing movies: they feel they are right up there with the main character, trying to beat life and come out victorious.
The thing about boxing movies is that in order to make a good one, you can’t really focus so much on the fights themselves, because if you do, you risk falling into repetition because so many movies that have come before have already explored that formula ad nauseum. Films like Gladiator (1992), all the six Rocky movies, The Boxer (1997) The Hurricane (1999), Cinderella Man (2005), Girlfight (2000), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Raging Bull (1980), have all been there and done that. Boxing movies can sometimes go the same way most sports movies go: the boxer starts out not boxing very well, he looses a fight, then he gets better, and finally in the end he wins. If you do that with your boxing movie, you’re walking on tired ground. We’ve seen that already. And this is the very same reason why I hate sports movies in general, they are all the same. The team isn’t too good in the beginning, they confront whatever personal situation is not letting them move forward with the game, then they practice, then they get good and finally they win.
The trick to a good boxing movie is to focus more on the story behind the boxer. Who he is as a person, and go deep into his personal struggles. And I’m happy to say that this is exactly what The Fighter did. The film itself doesn’t really focus on the fights; it focuses more on the fighter, and his life. In this case, it’s the life of two real life boxers: Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (played by Christian Bale). Micky is trying to make it as a boxer, unfortunately he is considered a “stepping stone”; a fighter that is used to help other fighters rise to the top. But he is trying to get past that. He really wants to make it big. Unfortunately he is managed by his mother who only cares about taking small fights and making little bits of money with each one. What Micky wants is to make it big. Another thing that brings Micky down is that he is trained by his brother, who is a crack addict. Micky needs to cut ties with his family is he is ever going to make it. Will he ever muster the strength to leave them all behind?
The Fighter is predictable yes, you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve seen them all. And yeah, at first he sucks, then he gets better, then he wins. But what’s great about this movie is that it didn’t make a big deal about the fights themselves. The first few fights are quick moments in the film, they aren’t these long drawn out affairs filmed in slow motion or anything. They save the biggest fight for the end, but the rest of the film isn’t about the fights themselves, which a lot of boxing movies do a lot. Instead the film focuses on the two brothers and their struggles with trying to make it out of poverty. They are part of a huge family, they have something like 5 sisters, plus the two brothers. And the sisters always got something to say, though they don’t do much themselves. Micky’s family is the best example of trailer thrash there is. None of them have any education. It seems as if all they do is hang around the house all day gossiping, smoking cigarettes and watching television. But when it comes down to an opinion about something, they are all hive minded and think the same, especially when it comes to Micky’s new girlfriend whom they don’t like at all. They think she’s an “MTV girl” whatever that means. So Micky is trying to make it, but you get the feeling that his family is holding him back. They live under that hive mentality where the family thinks that no one can ever leave them to go and search for something better. Still, theres always that struggle. And yeah, its true, blood is thicker then water. And that’s really what the film focuses on, that struggle between pleasing yourself and following your dreams, and disconnecting, yet not forgetting about family.
The best thing the film has going for it is Christian Bale’s performance. If you’ve been keeping track with Christian Bale’s career, then you know the man is a freaking chameleon. He can transform from one role to the next like no other actor can, and personally, I think it’s about time the guy won an Oscar. Ever seen how thin he got for his role in Brad Anderson’s The Machinist (2004)? The guy was playing a sleep deprived individual, and to best portray this character he lost 63 pounds! Then he buffed up for Batman Beings (2005) and looked better then ever. He did the weight loss thing again when he played a U.S. fighter pilot who gets shot down and tries to survive in the jungles of Lao during the Vietnam war in Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn (2006). On The Fighter he went through the weight loss thing yet again to portray a crack addict. Gotta hand it to Bale, the weight loss thing really gets the trick done. But its not just about how thin he looks, his performance is really what sells the character to us. He really talks and acts like a crack addict! His character is responsible for some of the more funny moments in the film as well. As I write this, Oscar Night 2011 hasn’t happened yet, but Bale is nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category, and if you ask me, I believe he deserves that Oscar.
He isn’t the only one winning awards for his performance on this film. Melissa Leo who plays Micky and Dicky’s mother, won a Golden Globe, A Screen Actors Guild Award and a Broadcast Film Critics award. And Bale won all those awards right there with her. Both are nominated again for The Oscars. Mark Wahlberg hasn’t won any awards, and he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, even though he is the central character of the film. I agree with that though. The real stars of the show are Bale and Leo, they offer up the strongest performances. Its not that Wahlberg did a terrible job, it’s just that Bale and Leo outshine him performance wise that’s all. So we got a film filled with great performances, backed up by the fact that it’s all based on real life events. Director David O. Russell (I Heart Hucakbees and Three Kings) choreographed all the fights according to the footage that was caught by the cameras of HBO sports when they really happened. He even filmed the fighting sequences with the same cameras the HBO crew used back in those days; it gives the fighting sequences that look that television used to have before the High Definition days. Makes it all the more genuine.
Rating: 4 out of 5