Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: The Fighter

The Fighter is a film that is rough around the edges to say the least, but when you least expect  it, its grittiness, and inspirational story comes out of no where and knocks you out with its conflict and emotion.

The film starts out in a documentary style, as HBO is filming the supposed comeback of Dicky Ward (Christian Bale) the "Pride of Lowell", the boxer that managed to knock down Sugar Ray Leoned. Dicky is training his younger brother Mickey (Mark Wahlberg), who is managed by their overcontrolling mother (Melissa Leo).

As Mickey continues his training, fights in a couple of unfair fights, and meets the girl of his dreams Charlene (Amy Adams), things begin to fall apart, as offers for better training and better management cause conflict among his family members, all of whom claim to "have his back". This escalates even further after Dicky attempts to make some more money for his brother's traning, and is arrested on an array of charges. This, combined with his crack addiction, make it difficult for Mickey to train properly, yet also puts him on either end of a double edged sword, between newer management, and the family that got him where he was. In the end, The Fighter ends up being less about boxing, and more about the problems we face when our family and friends come into conflict. In the end, it isn't whether Mickey wins or loses, it is whether the people he loves finally put aside their differences to deliver him a championship.

As I said, The Fighter ends up being less about boxing and more of a character study about deeply disturbed and conflicted people. There are no perfect characters, no heroes, just a working class family that deals with its internal squabbles. Mark Wahlberg has never been my favorite actor, but he does a nice job of being low-key and honest, and my guess is that he will surprise all of us with a Best Actor nomination come Oscar morning. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, play the battling pair of mom vs. girlfriend, and both conquer their roles with gusto, and both deserve Oscar attention. Leo was the most impressive of the two, but Adams really surprised me by showing us acting depth that we had never seen from her before. However, all of them pale in comparison to the wonderful Christian Bale, who nails the character and mannerisms of Dickey, and truly encompasses his character like few actors today can actually do. He is a revelation, and unless something drastic changes, he needs to have his Oscar acceptance speech ready.

While The Fighter keeps you waiting, and is an emotional powerhouse, thanks mostly to its talented cast, it is also a flawed film. There are cut-a-ways that don't really work, one too many scenes of too many people talking all at the same time, and a conclusion that leaves many things up in the air. However, in the bottom of my heart, I feel that that was exactly what Russell intended. Like his many flawed characters, Russell's film is exactly what it needed to be, because in this story there are no happy endings, there are lots of ups and downs, and some of those scenes that just don't seem to fit, actually end up fitting perfectly into this tale that prides itself on its realistic portrayal, and not on perfectly executed dramatic flourishes.

Pure and simple, The Fighter is a deft combination of family drama, and rousing sports film, anchored by its four leads, that keeps the audience guessing, gasping in shock, and cheering for our underdog Mickey. In the end, The Fighter is the type of movie that lingers with you long after you left the theatre, and if that isn't successful, I don't know what is.

Oscar Potential: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress (Adams), Supporting Actress (Leo), Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Cinematography.

Grade: A-

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