Wednesday, 16 February 2011

THE FIGHTER (2010) - 4 STARS

"I'm the one who's fighting. Not you, not you, and not you"


Though boxing has never been one of my favourite sports in life, it plays a huge role in major sports films being successful, originally starting with Sylvester Stallone's popular Rocky franchise followed by Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Raging Bull (1980) and continuing to attract Hollywood names like Denzil Washington, Russell Crowe and Clint Eastwood. This trend of the rags-to-riches story continues with David O. Russell's gritty but terrific flick The Fighter which becomes the latest boxing film to attract big names to the genre and allow the audience to be intrigued by a gutsy true-life story worthy of the Hollywood makeover and overshadow other sports like football which have never done as well on the big screen.


Set between the late 1980's and early 90s, the film chronicles the story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) whose ambition in life was to take a title shot and become a champion. However having been raised in a tough neighborhood in Boston with an over supportive family to grind him down, Mickey's dream faced serious doubts. Though he gained training backup from his brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a former boxer who defeated Sugar Ray Leonard, Mickey knows it's time for a change if he expects to make a serious impact in the boxing world having been held back too long now being in his early 30's. Things are further complicated with Dicky now an addicted drug-addict who lets Mickey down during training sessions, while the pair's mother Alice (Melissa Leo) becomes too protective of them unaware that Mickey wants a change in his boxing career as well as Dicky's addiction. Ultimately Mickey meets feisty waitress Charlene (Amy Adams) and falls in love with her but clearly his family disapprove of the relationship which becomes evident when he loses a crucial boxing fight. He is, however, given another opportunity of having a title shot on condition he ditches his family's support and undergo new management which isn't approved well by the family. Dicky soon ends up in prison but it doesn't stop Mickey from getting his career back on track as he wins several matches before facing the most important fight of his career but as it approaches, will he have the support of his family or has everything already fallen apart past the point of being repaired?


Having been involved with controversy in his career, director David O. Russell has silenced his critics by making a fascinating and tough film, that continues to carry the popular tradition of boxing films and allow it to become a contender in its own way when it comes to the award season. His characters have a harsh reality to them, in addition to looks, clothes and mannerisms, Russell chooses a more hand-held documentary feel for the film and even opts to film parts of the boxing sequences with lenses like the ones used in the late '90s to give the feel of watching a live broadcast. The solid cast also plays its part in one of the most effective ensembles of the year and sees great performances from everyone. It produces one of Mark Wahlberg's most reserved and complex roles to date as Micky who has an unbreakable devotion to his family, which both strengthens and cripples him. Amy Adams's character, seems to want nothing more than to be with Mickey but is also relying on his success to be the ticket to her bettering her life, her sassy but foul-mouthed performance is completely opposite to her delightful, lovable role in Enchanted (2007), though at least her roles are becoming more varied. Melissa Leo turns in an emotionally powerful performance as you can tell she only wants the best for her family, does everything within her power to do just that, and still seems to wind up hurting them in the long run. It'll be interesting whether she does go on to win the Supporting Actress Oscar though Adams may cause disruption for her in that category. Even Jack McGee as the father of the family gives an assured and badly underrated performance that should really got more attention as his character keeps the supporting people together. However the real winner in the acting stakes though goes to Christian Bale  who physically transformed himself for the part, and wows us not by focusing on theatrical mannerisms or wallowing in melodrama the way most actors would have, but by revealing the person behind the addiction; he plays Dicky Eklund, not a drug addict. Like Leo, he too gives an award-winning performance that continues to help his hectic career through his many physical changes. As with the story, the chemistry between the actors in the family as they mix in well with the little bits of humor thrown in for good measure amongst all of the brawling and knockout punches, it really is easy to get lost in the film.


However with boxing films, The Fighter doesn't quite hit the emotional mark when it comes to the triumphant rags-to-riches story like Rocky or Cinderella Man, once we get to the ending, we aren't cheering as much for Micky as we would for say, Rocky Balboa or Jimmy Braddock, though at least the emotional core of the film is settled for the family scenes. You also can't help but feel that the film is just too foul-mouthed to really stand out with audiences and although it may be set in a tough environment, some of the swearing is a bit too unnecessary, Amy Adam's character, the surprisingly most guilty of the characters in that department. And as most other people have commented, the sisters in the Ward/Ecklund family are too much stereotyped as bitchy hags who spend most of the film sniping at Charlene and not being hugely supportive towards Mickey on his way to championship glory. Overall some electriying performances and a productive story prove key in helping The Fighter continue the great tradition of other boxing films making us aware that everyone deserves a second chance, and the chance to be great, a knockout this film certainly is!

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