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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: The Fighter (2010)

* * *

Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo

The Fighter is David O. Russell's most conventional film and the only feature length film he's directed that he didn't also have a hand in writing, which is perhaps why it doesn't quite have the passion of his previous efforts. I mean, sure, it gets the adrenaline pumping during its finale, but overall it's something of a detached effort. Luckily it's got four solid performances pushing it forward.

The Fighter tells the story of "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a welterweight boxer struggling to make his mark. As the story opens, however, the focus is on Ward's half-brother Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer who is now the subject of a documentary about crack addiction. Dicky - "the pride of Lowell" thanks to having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard once upon a time - has convinced himself that the film crew is detailing his comeback rather than his continuing descent, and he's more or less enabled by everyone in his life, particularly his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo). Since Dicky acts as his brother's trainer, his drug problem has some pretty major negative effects on Micky's career and after an altercation with police which results in one of Micky's hands being broken, Micky decides that he can no longer afford to maintain the professional side of their relationship.

Alice, who is fiercely supportive of Dicky, pressures Micky not to turn his back on his brother and, perhaps even more importantly, not to turn his back on her by cutting her lose as his manager. However, several other people in Micky's life - including his father (Jack McGee), his other trainer Mickey O'Keefe (played by the real O'Keefe), and his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) - make him see the necessity of cutting Alice and Dicky, and the insanity that seems to follow in their wake, out of his career. This starts a veritable war over Micky, who understands that his mother and brother bring too much drama but ultimately still feels a great deal of loyalty to them. He's given an ultimatum but, in the end, gets to have his cake and eat it too as his mother and brother end up in his corner alongside his girlfriend, father and trainer.

The four principal actors are all very good and though I've read reviews in which Bale and Leo's performances are described as bordering on "cartoony," I have to disagree with that assessment. Just because a role seems showy, doesn't mean that there aren't people like that who exist in the real world. Personally, Bale's portrayal of Dicky reminded me a lot of a guy I know casually through my real job, so the performance rang with authenticity to me. Likewise, I have no doubt that Leo's portrayal of Alice could easily remind a viewer of someone they've known. Their characters have very forceful personalities, huge presences, but the performances are skilled and I don't think that either is overly-mannered or scenery chewing.

Bale and Leo have the most colorful roles (although the actresses playing Micky and Dicky's army of sisters are pretty colorful themselves), but the quieter performances from Wahlberg and Adams give the film its emotional resonance. Part of the problem that I had with The Fighter is that it kind of gives short shrift to Micky and, by extension, to Wahlberg. Micky is the story's official subject but the film consistently seems more interested in his brother, which is perhaps why one of the "big" moments - when Micky reveals his frustrations about living in Dicky's shadow, telling his mother, "I'm your son, too" - falls a bit flat. I mean, Micky is absolutely right but it seems like an afterthought given that the film itself is fascinated by Dicky at Micky's expense.

In the end, while I really liked the four performances of The Fighter, I found the film itself too unfocused and some of the conflicts (particularly that between Charlene and Micky's family) resolved a bit too tidily. It's a good movie, but it falls far short of greatness.

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Anonymous said...

I really need to see this before the year ends. I love Amy Adams, and I would love her to win that Oscar.

Norma Desmond said...

She's really great, though I think Leo is probably the more likely of the two to walk away with an Oscar for this one.

CMrok93 said...

A fitting tribute to a real-life Rocky and Adrian featuring a quartet of inspired performances by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams.