The Fighter: Talented Cast Elevates Film Above Typical Sports Story

20 12 2010

The Fighter, based on the true story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward and his half-brother, Dicky, is a refreshingly original take on the sports/boxing genre, and offers a unique look at inner-city Massachusetts life in the mid 1980s. Here’s the breakdown:

Mickey (Mark Wahlberg) is struggling to make it in the world of professional boxing. An overbearing manager, mother Alice (Melissa Leo), a budding relationship with Charlene (Amy Adams), and a tumultuous relationship with trainer, half-brother, ex-fighter and crack addict Dicky are all hurdles and blessings on his path to success in the ring.

The Monkey: The acting in this film is what made it. Melissa Leo as the drawling, chain-smoking mother, Amy Adams as the fiery girlfriend, and Christian Bale as the emaciated, over-the-top, druggy-with-a-heart-of-gold; these three actors delivered powerhouse performances. It’s rare to see even one actor in a movie deliver this level of emotional weight and immersive believablity. This makes The Fighter a treat of the highest order, with three exceptional actors bringing three exceptional performances to the table.

Christian Bale is sure to get lots of love this awards season, as he should. Never one to shy away from drastic physical changes for a role (he lost 63 pounds for The Machinist and bulked up for Batman Begins), Bale’s glassy eyes and chicken neck are but shadowy figments of the inner issues he acts out onscreen. While Hollywood is never short on depictions of drug-use and addiction, Bale’s performance is a very different take, examining the profound impact it has on family ties and personal relationships. And it’s this family relationship that is at the heart of The Fighter. And at the heart of the movie’s onscreen family is Alice. Melissa Leo plays the matriarch so deftly, she manages to avoid the role of villainess and the role of doting mother at the same time. While at times her actions are downright cruel and unforgivable, Leo is able to remind the audience of her undying love for her family. Viewers will struggle with the same emotions her children surely felt: how can you love a woman who acts this way, but how can you not?

The focus of The Fighter is the relationships that both hindered and helped Mickey through his career. It was this approach that saved the movie from becoming just one more underdog sports flick. The audience actually learns more about the sport of boxing, actually cares more about Mickey’s success, actually want to see Mickey succeed because the audience is invested in his personal life, invested in his relationships. The boxing is secondary, a public expression of his private struggles. The movie is less about boxing and more about the personal ups and downs one must go through to realize a dream. For that, I almost wouldn’t even classify The Fighter as a sports movie, but rather a family drama.

The Weasel: I think it would be unfair to say Mark Wahlberg failed to deliver, because, in any other movie, with any other cast, he would have stood out; however, The Fighter packs so much talent into 115 minutes that, unfortuately, it’s Wahlberg’s performance that gets overpowered. So much so, in fact, that one walks out of the movie feeling it was much more about Dicky’s story than it was Mickey’s.

While the dialogue, the directing and the other technical aspects of the film were excellent, the overall rhythm of the storytelling was inconsistent. If The Fighter had employed a cast of any less talent, the rather slow pace of the film would have been that much more apparent. As luck would have it, the talented cast carried the movie through any narrative lulls.

The Fighter manages to rise above typical sports movie fare, revealing the raw, personal side of an athlete’s struggle. The movie’s success is also, unquestionably, due to the unparalleled efforts of Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. I hope awards season recognizes their accomplishments.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did The Fighter feel like other sports movies? Is Christian Bale deserving of all the pre-Oscar award buzz? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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One response

20 12 2010

I really loved this movie. Check out what I thought on my blog

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