Title: The Fighter
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee
Let’s just go ahead and get this unavoidable comparison out of the way. The Fighter is not Rocky for this generation. Not saying it was trying to be – since it is based on a true story of Micky Ward – however, the story does follow the general pattern made famous by Stallone. Which may be indirectly appropriate since the sport of boxing hasn’t really evolved too much in the last thirty years either.
The way this flick differs from a Rocky or a Raging Bull is found in the supporting players. This isn’t solely about a boxer training and rising to greatness. Well, that is part of the story, but the main focus revolves around a blue-collar family, who had a taste of fame and pushes for it to happen again. The catalyst in making that scenario happen lies within Micky. Unlike Rocky, Micky has too many people around him that have their own unique way in guiding the quiet contender. Reality sets in when Micky starts making decisions for himself and this causes trouble in his personal life. Which then bleeds into his professional career.
In 1993 Lowell, Massachusetts, Dicky Eklund (a skinny Christian Bale) is training his younger brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). Micky is in his thirties and has always lived in the shadow of his older brother. And not just in the sport of boxing. His broken family is made up of eight siblings – six are girls – and trying to figure out who is related by blood or divorce can be a chore. The brothers are managed by their mother Alice (Melissa Leo), who has guided Dicky’s once promising career and now plans to do the same with Micky. It seems as though everyone is still living in the past, living off Dicky’s career moment when he knocked DOWN Sugar Ray Leonard. Micky is in a slump, but the family seems to keep the focus on the pride of Lowell…Dicky.
Which is interesting because Dicky is a junkie. He shows up late to training sessions with his brother half-in-the-bag and his once expert advice has done nothing except increase the wounds on Micky’s face. As Micky ponders about leaving the sport and the “family business”, he meets a local bartender in Charlene (Amy Adams with an attitude). Charlene believes in Micky and suggests he sticks with boxing but sever the bond with his family’s involvements in his career. This becomes easier than one would think for Dicky has another run-in with the police and is sent off to prison. Plus, a few reputable trainers agree to give it one last shot with Micky.
Obviously, Micky makes a comeback and works his way up the ladder. As this happens, Micky still wants his brother by his side, even though everyone around him believes that it will derail his career once again. The constant internal struggle between what is best for his career and including his screwed up family in his new world, has Micky now fighting himself.
The last paragraph comes across a little PR-ish (public relations) yet that is what the point of this flick is. Is it executed dramatically enough as others in this genre? Not really. The story lands a few good shots but it can’t really go the distance.
Director David O. Russell attempted to do a few different things in trying to avoid the Rocky comparison. Similar to Rob Zombie’s explanation when he agreed to remake the classic that is Halloween. Zombie stated that he went back and looked at trivial things that didn’t seem natural in the original. Russell may have done the something along those lines. For instance, the opening of this flick screams Rocky rip-off. Seeing the two brothers strolling through the streets of their hometown while training, the locals start following them. Just like Stallone runs through Philly and kids try to keep up with the local hero. Russell keeps this scenario calm which takes a more realistic approach. Now it isn’t the most entertaining, but it instantly give the audience a perception on the characters they will be following for the next 114 minutes. Rocky was already hero. Micky is not.
What isn’t seen in the Rocky flicks are the economics of boxing. Russell doesn’t dive deep into this area but the curtain is pulled back a little bit more to give the novice a better idea of what happens within the sport. When Micky begins to rededicate himself to the sport, one isn’t going to hear the crunching 80’s guitar riff that signals business is about to pick up. Instead, the smooth sounds of a Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ballad acts as a reflective piece, because Micky isn’t completely sure on what he is taking on. Mentioned above, the supporting players play a role in keeping this retread-like story fairly engaging. The quarrels between Micky and his brother, along with the rest of the family, mildy act as a refreshing take on this genre.
For those looking for great in-ring action, go Youtube a Marvin Hagler/Sugar Ray Leonard fight. The boxing choreography found here is not exciting at all. It is nothing more than a backdrop or filler. The cinematography brings one right in the ring and with today’s technology, the cutting to different angles in the same moment is kind of cool to see. That said, with boxing, going for a realistic look is admirable, but there is a reason why the sport is slowly dying. Even the climatic fight at the end signals a bathroom break.
That just leaves the performances and they pick up the slack this flick has. Christian Bale is going to clean house for best supporting actor. This is the most life anyone has seen out of the actor in years. Dare we say American Psycho? It’s not just about the weight he shed to accurately portray Dicky. His mannerisms and his natural ability to enhance the emotional tone all falls on his frail shoulders. He carries every scene. Also landing a knockout blow is Amy Adams. Welcome to the world of real acting my lady. She may have just separated herself from the pack (Rachel McAdams, Rebecca Hall, etc.). Wahlberg is solid as well. Sure he pulls the quiet humble act again, but this time the character actually called for it.
Overall, The Fighter is a worthy contender but will fail to make any hall of fame ballots. Audacious performances and a few tweaks to the familiar genre will enable an audience to deal with the repetitive story. The atmosphere created is captivating but the flick’s initial striking power fades away in the later rounds.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5