Reviews

The Fighter

4

Underdog sporting biopic punches above its weight...

The Fighter review

A long time brewing, Mark Wahlberg stuck with this pugilistic passion project through the thick, the thin and the comings and goings of Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Darren Aronofsky.

Even Martin Scorsese turned down a chance to direct. Starting out, Wahlberg probably didn’t imagine that he’d end up teaming with the combustible talents of Christian Bale and David o. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) – surely an inadvertent statement of intent that The Fighter was going to be a raw, bruising, but deeply memorable encounter.

And instead of spilling further rants onto YouTube, the unpredictable duo – invigorated by Wahlberg’s never-say-die commitment, no doubt – have channelled their volatile passions into a brawler biopic that manages to find thrilling new ways to spin a punch-drunk genre.

It’s a tale of two underdogs. Dickie eklund (Bale) once sent Sugar Ray Leonard to the mat but is now a crackaddicted hustler clinging to former boxing glories as the unreliable sparring partner for his younger half-brother, ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Wahlberg).

Once known as “the pride of Lowell”, Dickie’s also the subject of an HBO documentary, which he boasts to locals is about his comeback but is really about life on the crack-farm. The docmakers shadowing the sprawling clan are part of Russell’s early tapestry, which among other things helps get some awkward exposition out of the way.

As for Micky, he’s exploited and undermined by his domineering mother/manager Alice (Melissa Leo, bleached-blonde and fearsome). If stepping into the ring is daunting for Wahlberg’s pensive introvert, the meddlesome toxicity he faces in his own family makes you think he’s getting off lightly with the awful beatdowns he takes to keep them in clover.

Rocky beginnings

The film’s opening scene of a scuzzy, cadaverous Bale, addressing HBO’s camera with hollow-eyed urgency, makes your heart sink: is this going to be another one of those wrung-out turns that’s more about a feat of physical transformation than making us give a blind toss?

It’s a foreboding feeling not necessarily abated in the early stretches, which also weave in Micky’s hook-up with spunky barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams) and takedown by a boxer who has 20lbs on him. But as Ward’s resentment simmers and Bale’s manic antics settle into a performance that commands our affection, The Fighter starts to spar like a true champion, light-footed, dexterous and disciplined.

Russell may be rolling in cliches – the come-from-behind hero who endures pain, humiliation and multiple training montages before pouncing on redemption – but he makes The Fighter seem anything but unoriginal.

Call it a new breed of boxing movie, one where flawlessly realised naturalism and family psychodrama take centre stage.

From Lowell’s cracked pavements and dilapidated housefronts to the showy working-class Baw-ston accents on display (this year’s Third World orphan – Hollywood’s must-have accessory), The Fighter reeks of realism, its mood of mean-streets authenticity extending to Mickey O’Keefe, the police sergeant who served as Ward’s trainer/mentor, playing himself in the film. The fact that he barely ‘acts’ makes a nice counterbalance to the in-yer-face histrionics swirling around him.

If the loud, ferocious Alice can come off as an over-caricatured maternal monster, there’s no faulting Leo’s awesome performance, or those of Ward’s seven tough-as-nails sisters. Answering Alice’s war cry to launch a braying assault on “dirty bar skank” Charlene after Micky dares to declare his independence, they’re the Damned- Hair United. (A keen sense of humour is another of the film’s priceless assets.)

Body and soul

Breaking type with a character Russell has perhaps reductively called a “sexy bitch”, Adams is a zillion miles away from Disney princess-dom without overselling it, although her tough-chick act gets sidelined after Bale’s reprobate hoves back into view following a jail spell.

As for Wahlberg, he careens like a battered pinball between family, girlfriend, selfish promoters and damaging opponents. He’s the story’s sensitive, stalwart, hugely sympathetic heart, demonstrating impressive boxing prowess while charting a thoroughly convincing journey from punchbag to champ.

Shooting with handheld immediacy, Russell refrains from wallowing in the sport’s blood-spilling brutality, while still painting everything with vivid vibrancy.

He hits some bum notes along the way – a puerile dig at film snobs crops up like an unwelcome intrusion from a Woody Allen comedy – but for the most part he’s in supreme control, working from a smart, tidy script that churned through the mitts of multiple screenwriters (including, bizarrely, a chief writer on the Air Bud franchise).

It’s the final rounds when Russell’s meticulous machinations really click into gear. The film begins to engage on a heightened level of emotionally charged exhilaration that carries it through Dickie’s return from prison, family tensions coming to a boil, and Micky’s road to a championship bout in London.

By the closing frames, you’ll be jumping about punching your own fists in the air. Inspiring, funky, filled with passion, The Fighter is a boxing movie that everyone can love. You can even take your mum.
 

Verdict:

Like its battered, beleaguered central hero, this boxing biopic takes a few rounds to really get going. But when it does, it’s a rousing, compassionate, bare-knuckled ride powerful enough to score a KO, while Bale, Wahlberg, Leo and Adams are all award-worthy excellent.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • BobbyTwoTimes

      Jan 26th 2011, 9:59

      5

      Saw this last night - absolutely outstanding! Some of the best boxing scenes i've seen on film and all the main leads are brilliant - especially Wahlberg and Bale (there's no chance anyone else is gonna take that Oscar home!) Without a doubt up there with Raging Bull and Rocky as one of the best boxing films i've ever seen and definitely one of the best films of the year!

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    • MariaAlford

      Feb 1st 2011, 10:22

      5

      This film was amazing! Christian Bale just blew me away. Believable boxing scenes. Bale must get the Oscar!

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    • kalam786

      Feb 1st 2011, 10:41

      4

      Watched this last night. Absolutely Outstanding. Mark Wahlberg would appear to have built himself up a bit (physically) for the role and played this excellently, but Christian Bale was pure masterclass (in my humble opinion). This is definately going to be one of the best movies for 2011 and should definately be dubbed "The best boxing movie since Rocky"

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    • starsailor123uk

      Feb 1st 2011, 10:47

      Once I got past trying to compare this film to the seminal Rocky I actually enjoyed the film. Wahlberg and Bale both gave good performances, the laters likely to be a shoe-in for the Oscar. If you can get past comparing it to the previous fighter films and look at it in isolatino then its well worth a trip to the cinema

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    • mishterlusk

      Feb 1st 2011, 10:53

      4

      Lost my boxing movie virginity to this last night. Christian Bale excels yet again. Found my heart racing during the boxing scenes. Really rooted for the characters. Great job.

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    • terry2011

      Feb 1st 2011, 12:22

      One word to describe this film, its AWESOME. One of the best films i have seen for a long time. Christain Bale portrays an amazing Crack addict, and Mark Walburg is fantastic as Micky Ward. This was a lot better than i anticipated , in fact its up there with Rocky!! Terry

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    • xXBOOSHXx

      Feb 1st 2011, 14:44

      4

      Saw this last night, and after a slow start was very impressed with the overall depth of the characters, the performances from Walburg and Bale were spot on, and story was both enjoyable and inspiring for all fellow underdogs out there.

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    • wlmcdonough

      Feb 1st 2011, 22:11

      4

      I didn't know Bale had it in him, give that man a medal, or better still an Oscar! It had soul, it entertained, I cared about the characters and felt pulled along at just the right speed.

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    • joeymac

      Feb 3rd 2011, 17:56

      4

      A solid film, certainly. Some truly excellent performances to chew on, and a steady build from a tepid start to a bubbling climax - but it ain't that good. There's some seriously high praise knocking about on this thread! I think I must've missed something. It's a sturdy three-and-a-halfer for me.

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    • ashleyrhys

      Feb 16th 2011, 12:43

      5

      My goal to see every Oscar nominated film before the ceremony is seeming very unlikely thanks to me being a student. Either way, I went to the cinema last night to see a film I've been dying to see more than any of the other Oscar nominations, The Fighter. I'd heard great things about this film and about all the performances in it but I still went in with my no expectation view on the film. About ten minutes in, I realised that Christian Bale was amazing; it took only ten minutes for that to kick in. This film is based on the true story of Micky Ward, the younger, cast-into-the-shadows brother of Dicky Eklund who knocked Sugar Ray Leonard down when he was in his prime and that was his last professional fight. Dicky Eklund is deluded to the concept that he can still make a comeback and so is his mother, Alice Ward - played by Melissa Leo. Although they claim that this is all about Micky and family but really it's about having money and so Dicky can build himself back up to be a champion yet again. There is no bias in the family, according to Alice, but there blatantly is. Dicky is the star child of this dysfunctional family since he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, the crack addicted star child that is. The direction of the film is pretty much perfect. The film pulls you in as if you're a helpless family member in this chaos and you get fully immersed in such a helpless manner that you want to put Micky Ward's family in their place. That being said, this can be quite funny at times. Weird as it is, you like the crack-addicted brother who's selfish in his thoughts. The way he moves, talks and just acts with a brash of never ending arrogance makes you like him instead of despising his pathetic self. While the film will have you laughing, it will also send you into a spiral of different emotions and the most common one I had was frustration at the fact that Micky was getting ignored so easily. Any film that sucks you in so easily is incredible. I noticed that Mark Wahlberg was robbed of a nomination. I haven't seen Biutiful so I can't comment on Javier Bardem's performance but all I know is that Mark Wahlberg was ignored purely because he kept it all together. He didn't have the loud, skinny addict brother but the level-headed one who has always stayed in the shadow of his half-brother Dicky Eklund. He was Micky Ward and he really performed in an outstanding manner. I still believe that Mark Wahlberg is an incredibly underrated actor ever since I saw him in Fear, Three Kings and Four Brothers; he's just made some wrong decisions about what film to act in really. We can't forget about the train-wreck of The Happening and the painfully bad but beautiful (cinematography wise) Max Payne. Maybe they're punishing him for those? Hopefully, this'll lead to him actually doing more great films again. Christian Bale's portrayal of a crack-addict who can't let go of former glories like a nostalgic grandfather who rambles on about how society used to be and how he used to work his socks off for a mere tuppence is far too convincing. His performance is the most talked about but for a reason. He takes in a lot of the attention with his character who hogs the limelight from his brother, and that's what Christian Bale does in this film. He takes centre stage from an incredible Mark Wahlberg just like their characters. Amy Adams's (yes, it is s's, google it) "sexy-b***h" character - as described by David O. Russell - is an incredible all-round performance. From the rude but comical way she introduces herself to Alice Ward to the fight thanks to an "MTV girl" insult from one of the seven haggard sisters, Amy Adams shows she can do it all and shouldn't be type-cast. Even though she's now at the age of thirty-six she still looks in her mid 20s so hopefully we'll see more from her. From the silly-but-hilarious Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby to the probably awful (haven't seen it) Enchanted, Amy Adams can do it all; and she really wants to be seen as a sexy dominating girl who will fight and voice her opinion. Amy Adams deserves an Oscar for this role and her ability to diversify herself. Another great performance from the near-perfect cast is Melissa Leo's manager/mother depiction of Alice Ward. A terrifying, controlling mother of nine children but puts her Dicky on a pedestal that no one can eclipse. The Oscar nomination is deserved and if she won it then there'd be no complaints from anyone but I still think that Amy Adams deserves it. There is only one complaint on my part and that is annoying Boston actress, Jill Quigg, who can't act and annoyed me with her brief performance in Ben Affleck's directorial début, Gone Baby Gone, and now this. Just because her Boston accent is incredibly strong doesn't mean she has to be cast. She also looks like her face has folded in on itself and that's not something you want to see from an emotionless and monotonous actress. To summarise, this film is for everyone. It's a fantastic, if not clichéd, storyline of the underdog but that doesn't matter since it's true. Nothing about this story seems unoriginal and David O. Russell has created what I deem to be one of the best films I've seen. From the authenticity of the fight scenes (by using the real HBO cameras) to the authenticity of every single character who made this film a believable spectacle which almost makes you shout in anger and cheer in happiness along. I've decided to adopt the "star system": ★★★★★

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    • Fitness76

      Mar 28th 2011, 12:27

      I thought this film was fantastic the acting performance from Christian Bale and Mark whalberg was amazing 2 of the finest actors of our generation, the fighting scenes where choreographed to perfection which makes this film a must see. overall 101/10

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    • glegs

      Apr 9th 2011, 15:43

      3

      http://imdb.com/title/tt0964517/usercomments-259

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