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The Fighter (2010)

December 20, 2010

7/10 Hometown Heroes

It’s a poor man’s Rocky, but it does have the best ensemble cast of the year and that goes a long way.

The Fighter is about an up-and-coming blue-collar boxer from Lowell, MA who tries to work his way out of a losing streak with the help of his crackhead brother/former boxing champ and his wacko mother/manager at his side. As the chips continue to fall in his opponents’ favor and he’s forced to pass up golden opportunities thanks to the wishes of his crazy family, he starts going steady with a local bartender who helps him get back on his feet, shake off all the drama that’s been holding him back and start hitting the pavement on the road to the title. As you can imagine, his family doesn’t exactly take too well to this shift in management, and that’s just a whole ‘nother can of worms he has to work out while making a living out of taking uppercuts to the face.

So it’s the true story of one Micky Ward and his older brother Dicky Eklund, and as cool as it always is to be working off a true story, the big thing holding this back is that it’s a story we’ve all heard before. Sure, this time around we’ve got crack addiction, Boston accents and some major family feuding thrown into the mix, but the way you already think this plot is gonna shape up is exactly the way this plot does shape up.

But while that’s probably the biggest reason I gave this a 7 along with how totally unlikable Ward’s family is for a long while, the Rocky formula is pretty damn solid when it’s done right.

It’s well-directed by David O. Russell, it’s far more bare-bones than something like Three Kings, but I don’t know how much an ultra-stylized approach would have worked for this kind of story anyway. All in all, it’s pretty straightforward and it works well. Really dug the way all the boxing matches were filmed with a Pay-Per-View lens like I’d just been transported back to the La-Z-Boy in my living room, he lets the cast carry the story and those hits in the ring sure do look authentic. Although the training montages are pretty weak, there are as many weird song choices as there are great ones, and it takes forever for the actual boxing to kick into gear.

All the same, Russell does a fine job, but the biggest selling point here by a long shot is the cast.

I mean, I think we’re all in agreement by now that Christian Bale is very much the man. He’s Bruce Wayne, he’s Patrick Bateman, he’s a Newsie, he’s from Wales, and that’s about as much as anyone can ask for on a resume’. But as great as he’s been his entire career, this is the first time he’s had a legitimate chance at winning his first Oscar. Here he’s playing Dicky Eklund, and even though someone should at least give the guy an award solely for the outrageous damage he’s doing to his body by gaining and losing weight like a goddamn David Blaine understudy, I had no idea he had this kind of range. At the end of the movie we get to see a reel of the actual Micky and Dicky talking about what a great experience they had being on the film set, and it’s crazy how closely Bale mirrors the real-life Dicky. He’s off the wall, he’s a stone cold junkie, he’s a bum, but Bale nails the role and makes him a lot more likable than he probably should be. Dude’s got the best character arc of the bunch and it’s awesome to see Bale playing something radically different from what he’s used to and nail it from start to finish.

And in keeping with that theme, there’s Amy Adams as Micky’s main squeeze, Charlene. Never been a huge fan of the girl’s, but she has taken a huge step outside of her comfort zone and from here on out, I am an Amy Adams convert. Charlene is tough as nails, not at all glamorous (although she looks like a freakin’ runway model in comparison to the Ward sisters), and when trouble comes knocking at her door, she’s right there on the patio ready to kick ass then take names. Man, she’s just fantastic and so atypically tough, but I’m just really happy for Amy Adams more than anything. More power to her for giving this her all before she got typecast any further, wish more actors had the same self-awareness.

Mark Wahlberg’s also really good as our welterweight of the hour, Micky Ward, and that’s because it plays to Wahlberg’s strengths: having the physical attributes of a human freight train, flaunting that one serious look of his that would probably make me piss myself if I came across it in passing, and talking like he’s gonna end every sentence with “Say hi to your mother for me.” It didn’t work in The Lovely Bones, but soft-spoken and tough is exactly the kind of character Micky is and Wahlberg fits like a glove as a result.

And being that this is the first time I’ve ever seen Melissa Leo in anything, looks like I’m gonna be cruising through her life’s work from here on out. She is just great as Micky and Dicky’s helicopter mom, Alice, and she deserves an Oscar nod just as much as these other guys. What a manipulative role and Leo sends it home like it’s old hat. Really need to check out Frozen River now.

They all play off each other gorgeously, but the other great thing here is that every last one of ’em has some effing dynamite dialogue at their disposal. Like I said, the plot is whatever and the story’s been done, but there are some great one-liners and comebacks that had me and everyone else laughing out loud way more than I was expecting to. On the one hand, I love coming across a script that reads the way people actually talk, but I think I could have gone for a more serious tone to even out all the humor. But considering that it’s either a great idea or a horrible one to have three people writing the same script, I’m glad to see it fall into the former.

It could be that I just need to stop seeing movies in packed theaters because there’s apparently some epidemic going around that’s gravitating every irritating mother effer in New York City to every seat around me, but I also think the familiarity of it all played a strong hand in making it tough to get invested in everything that was going on here. It’s not a game-changer and it wasn’t until the final Act that I bumped this up to a 7, but The Fighter is still solid stuff and it’s absolutely worth seeing for the acting alone.

But my good buddy Fred really liked this, he said he’d give it an 8, and that’s a fine Verdict in my opinion, too.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2010 6:52 am

    I still really want to see this! We haven’t had a boxing film, in a long time, so to see this is kind of a flashback to the good old days. I’m seeing this on Christmas (with my sissy), and I can’t wait. Great review!

    • December 20, 2010 2:45 pm

      Thanks, man! Yeah, it’s been a while since boxing’s been the focus, we were due. Hope it was worth the wait, homey.

  2. Fred permalink
    December 20, 2010 6:34 pm

    I think Dicky had a different last name, started with an E? What a great movie!

    • December 20, 2010 6:49 pm

      Good catch, Fred. Been looking like a fool all day and didn’t even know it.

  3. HermioneO permalink
    December 28, 2010 1:10 pm

    Are you familiar with The Machinist? Bale’s been specializing in oscar-worthy transformations for a long time. Looks more like he’s getting back to it now that he’s done the obligatory box-office round robin what with Bat Man and Terminator.

    • January 3, 2011 12:42 pm

      Yeah, he was hideous in The Machinist. But like you said, the physical transformations are old hat for Bale at this point. The thing that makes him stand out here is that his character is wildly different from anything he’s played before and he still manages to totally nail it. Who knew he could play such a convincing crackhead.


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