- Vancouver, British Columbia - I had been intending for some time to watch The Fighter, but only got around to it yesterday. I'm not usually a huge fan of boxing films, let alone sports films, but The Fighter was generating significant awards season buzz, so I finally caved and checked it out. It was one of the rare occasions where I went to see a movie without knowing much about it at all other than that it was about a boxer trying to make the big time. After having viewed the film, I must say that this was a gross oversimplification of what was in fact a great story told on the silverscreen.
Where most boxing and sport films revolve almost entirely around the athlete protagonist of the film, The Fighter differs because it aims to give us an understanding of the lives of everyone around the boxer, "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). The film begins with us being introduced to Micky and his brother, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), who was also a noted boxer who, at one time, fought Sugar Ray Leonard. Dickie became known as the pride of Lowell, Massechusets, but has since fallen into drug addiction. Nonetheless, Dickie remains as Micky's coach, as he tries to push his brother towards boxing greatness. Micky's mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) is his manager, as well as the mother of nine adult children. She tries to find him the fights that will take him to the top, but after a string of violent defeats, Micky starts to question if his best interests are being looked after. Meanwhile, Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) comes into Micky's life and pushes him to make the right choices for himself, since no one else seems to be doing it for him.
The writing is among the strongest that I have seen out of Hollywood this year, as each character has great depth and some level of conflict in which they are invested. This is in large part what sets The Fighter apart from other sports films, in that, there is a great significance within this script and storyline. In fact, sports films are often their best when the focus is on the human drama around the game rather than the actual game itself, otherwise you get an embarrassment like D2: Mighty Ducks.
The most compelling character on the screen is Christian Bale's Dickie Eklund. This role required an actor who could create a visually compelling character that the audience would think was believable and Bale was on the mark in this film. We grow frustrated with Dickie Eklund's failure to get his life right, and while we understand that his life is the way it is because of himself alone, we still want him to get things sorted and make something of his life again. In some ways, Bale may have borrowed from the physicality of his character in American Psycho, but his Dickie Eklund in The Fighter is a much more compelling and empathetic character.
Amy Adams shows some real strength in this film by branching out from her typical nice-girl roles. While she is not exactly a "bad-ass chick," she plays a female character that possesses a lot more personal courage and strength than many of her previous roles. As for Melissa Leo, while I did not see her in her Academy Award-nominated role in Frozen River, I was impressed by her work in this film. Unlike many of her contemporaries her age, she is getting a lot of solid female roles recently. I'm looking forward to the five films that she has coming out in 2011.
One of the neat things about this film was the mix of cinematography in the film. The fights appeared to have been filmed with a handheld camcorder at times, while at other times, the fight looked like it was actually on HBO. It helped to create a certain level of belief that this was not simply a staged fight for a film, but we were watching the fight actually happening. Neither were the fights cliché, for which I was grateful.
Though this story was based on a true story, one of the things that I appreciated about the film was that I could never say with confidence that I knew what was going to happen. Often with sports films, we can be pretty certain that the athlete will win in the end and overcome his demons, but this was never certain for me in this film. I won't tell you what happens in the end, but the films final scene is a good one and I admit to being emotionally struck by its poignant grace.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes