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The Fighter (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Fighter (DVD)
Advantages: Gripping family drama, strong performances from all cast members, particularly Bale and Wahlberg
Disadvantages: Not much actual fighting if you're a boxing fan, loses its way a little in the middle
From Raging Bull to Rocky, Hollywood has always had a fascination with boxing. Perhaps it's because it throws up so many underdog/against the odds/rags to riches tales; or (being cynical) perhaps it's because boxing matches are brutal and exciting, but don't cost much in terms of special effects.
Whatever the reason, this love affair with fighting shows no sign of abating and The Fighter is the latest in a long line of Hollywood takes on real-life boxing tales. It follows the career of "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother Dicky, himself a former boxer (whose constant claim to fame is that he once knocked down the great Sugar Ray Leonard) now fallen on hard times.
Even if you don't like boxing, The Fighter is likely to appeal to you. The actual fights are mostly limited to clips of ten seconds or less, there are no training montages (indeed, the film should be congratulated for mostly avoiding the usual boxing movie clichés). Anyone wanting a more traditional sports movie might regard this as a bad thing, but to my mind, it turns it to its advantage. Instead, the film is more of a human/family drama, looking at the dysfunctional home life that sits behind Micky. Instead of through staged fights, the tension, drama and interest come via Micky's relationships with his extended interfering and over-protective family, particularly his very close (and slightly tragic) relationship with his brother.
Certainly, you could accuse the story arc of being a slightly predictable "against the odds tale", but it the material is handled very well. There is a genuine sense of tension and pressure and come the final title fight you will still find yourself on the edge of your seat, even though you are fairly confident what the final outcome will be.
More than the fight scenes, though it's the various familial relationships that provide the real emotional pull. Micky's family are managing his career badly, making all the wrong decisions yet, because he needs and loves his family so much, he cannot break away from them.
Nowhere is this conflict more obvious than in the relationship between Micky and his brother. Dicky has taught Micky everything he knows and is idolised by him, yet Dicky's crack addiction and tendency to live in the past threatens to drag his brother down with him. Micky loves and needs his brother, yet his increasingly erratic behaviour is destroying his own chances of making it as a top fighter. It's almost heart-breaking to watch this pair as they cling to each other; providing a stable point in a world filled with uncertainty, yet risking drowning together because of this mutual dependence.
This relationship is played out through a superb pair of performances from Mark Wahlberg (Micky) and Christian Bale (Dicky). Bale has the slightly showier role (his character's crack addiction and increasingly tenuous grasp of reality allows for a more exaggerated performance), yet Wahlberg never allows himself to be outperformed. He brings a quiet sense of exasperation and dignity to the role which means you can't help but root for him and arguably, gives the more nuanced performance. Crucially, there is a genuine sense of chemistry between the two actors, which reflects the close bond tying the brothers to each others' fate.
Nor are the good performances just limited to the central roles; it is a film packed with fine acting. Amy Adams is excellent as Micky's feisty girlfriend, Charlene and the scenes in which she argues and fights with Micky's family are superb and highly realistic (not to mention uncomfortable). Melissa Leo is utterly convincing as Micky's over-bearing mother, Alice whilst there are more restrained (but deeply dignified performances from Jack McGee (as Micky's father, George) Virtually every actor provides a subtly shaded performance and, no matter how grotesque they might appear, the audience can still have a great deal of sympathy for them as they truly believe they have Micky's best interests at heart.
Essentially, wherever you look there are fine performances littering the screen and barely a single moment is wasted. This is one of those instances where every aspect of the casting just works; no-one is in the wrong role, no-one stands and dominates the film and everyone appears to be working together to make the very best story they can.
It's true that the film does lose its way slightly in the middle and the endless family feuding becomes a little tiresome. It's also noticeable that this period coincides with one where Christian Bale is off-screen much of the time, and his interaction with his brother is sorely missed. Yet, even during these slightly slower periods, the film is never less than interesting; and, in the build-up to the final climactic fight, becomes engrossing. It might have a near two-hour run time, but for most of that, it will keep you enthralled.
Lovers of biopics might also be slightly disappointed that this film only concentrates on a very specific period in the life of Ward and his brother. Their rough childhood is often hinted at, but never explicitly explored and there are other avenues it might have been interesting to cast more light on. Still, the focus on a tighter period of time does allow The Fighter to concentrate on specific issues facing the main protagonists at a crucial time.
It's also difficult to establish how much of the tale is true and how much is a Hollywood-ised version of the truth and, if you really know your boxing, it's possible that the film might annoy you if it takes liberties with the real story (as I am sure it does). For someone like me, however, who had never heard of "Irish" Micky Ward before stepping into the cinema, I couldn't give two hoots about how accurate it is. All I know is that I watched a superb, engrossing film featuring some top-notch performances from some very fine actors.
Director: David O Russell
Running time: approx 116 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: Another strong entry in the overcrowded "boxing" movie market