Thursday, 3 February 2011

'The Fighter' Review

'The Fighter' (dir: David O. Russell, 2010/2011), Cert: 15

Boxing movies are most certainly an interesting thing. They seem to be the one and only sub-genre of sporting cinema that stays fairly consistent. If you read lists of the best sports films of all time, there are usually two, maybe even three boxing pictures in the top 5. For some reason it seems that two large men punching the living daylights out of each other works in well with stereotypical dramatic filmmaking, and that’s what’s happened again here with David O. Russell’s latest, ‘The Fighter’. This is O. Russell’s third pairing with Mark Wahlberg, plus the film stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Mellissa Leo, so it’s certainly something of a performance picture, but can Wahlberg and company hit enough to make this film a knockout?
 The film tells the true story of Micky Ward (Wahlberg); a welterweight boxer living in working class Lowell during the 1980s. His half-brother and once professional boxer Dicky Eklund (Bale) is his personal trainer however his life has become more consumed by his growing drug addiction and crime. The boys’ mother, Alice Ward (Leo) is Micky’s pushy manager who is contempt with keeping her huge family as tight as possible, regardless of whether this is best for all involved. Micky is sick of consistently losing fights and wants to end it all. He finds a companion and a lover in Charlene Fleming (Adams), a headstrong and tough-talking barwoman who’s deeply considerate under her gritty exterior. She and others around him boost Micky’s confidence and he soon returns to the ring for a series of fights and a shot at a title.
 I’ve always found Wahlberg a fairly troubling actor; he can deliver wonders in his comfort zone, but when he branches out, it all seems too much for him and his pictures start to show significant cracks. Marky Mark is great in ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997), ‘The Departed’ (2006) and ‘Shooter’ (2007) but the rest of his filmography isn’t that substantial. Regardless of this however, I had high hopes for this movie, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. ‘The Fighter’ finds that ideal balance between narrative and sporting drama; much like ‘Raging Bull’ (1980) or ‘Million Dollar Baby’ (2004), it fuses two types of key emotion; personal and event.
 As many know, this film has had much acclaim and has secured 7 Oscar nominations, which I think 6 of them are fair. I don’t agree with O. Russell being nominated for Best Director; not because this film isn’t made well because it is, but this is very much an actor’s piece and having him nominated over Christopher Nolan for ‘Inception’ is unbelievable. Nolan’s missed out once again this year, and for me, this is probably the worst mistake the Academy has made for a good 5 years. But besides that little rant, this is an excellent film that deserves the attention and praise it has accumulated.
Still from 'The Fighter' (dir: David O. Russell, 2010/2011)
 As I previously mentioned, this film relied completely on its actors and their performances, which can sometimes be a problem but it wasn’t here. The majority of buzz has been directed at Bale and Leo who are both phenomenal in their supporting roles. Bale does a ‘Machinist’ again and looses far too much weight and looks about as healthy as a fry-up, but he is wonderful as Dicky. He provides the audience with enough to either love or hate his character, and he plays both of these with great skill and conviction. His method acting is certainly admirable and he clearly cares enough about his roles to make fairly drastic changes to his psychical appearance. His Oscar is in reach and it’s an assured win. Leo is also fantastic as Alice, who is a slightly less likeable character but equally compelling with her frank behaviour. She’ll take home a statue that night too. However, it seems that Wahlberg and Adams has had the limelight taken from them. Adams, who also has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress alongside Leo, is marvellous here and for me, the star of the movie. Adams usually plays soft and gentle characters, but here she’s knocking back Jack, brawling with Micky’s siblings and snatching every scene she’s in. She’s a wonderful actress and with each film, she creeps a little closer into my favourites. And now to Wahlberg; I thought he was terrific. He may have missed out on an Oscar nomination for his performance (which I bet he’s furious about) but he really comes out of his shell here. Micky is a thoughtful and charming character who’s frequently down-trodden yet he keeps his head up and moves on. The audience care for him and want him to succeed in everything he does. He’s honest, motivated and charismatic; a perfect protagonist. Kudos Marky, kudos.
 ‘The Fighter’ is that rare beast; a film that may look obvious or ‘just another boxing film’ from it’s trailer and promotion, but during viewing, the audience is exposed to a great story about family, class and the aspiration to break free from a repetitive and lonesome lifecycle. It won’t sweep the Oscars; it will take home at least two, but the awards aren’t the main point. The point is this is a powerful, bold and engaging film that captures the viewer from the beginning and holds you throughout.

A tidal wave of acting talent separates this movie from the rest. It really is a knockout, there I said it.
By Chris Haydon

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