The Fighter

“You were the Pride of Lowell. You were my hero, Dickey.”

The Fighter is a boxing movie: just simply a boxing movie.  Unfortunately the boxing genre is really quite a dull one not because the sport itself is dull, but because every movie champion’s story seems to be basically the same: start off poor and simple then suddenly rise to fame.  There isn’t really much you can do originally in a boxing movie any more.  I suppose the short version of the previous sentences is as follows: The Fighter is unoriginal.  This season, many critics and audience members have raised their voices in support of the film, but frankly I found most of it to be surprisingly ordinary.  Oh well, that’s just me I guess, but as a critic I must be honest and therefore I can’t just go with the flow.  Any way, I think The Fighter had a lot of potential to be a new and innovative boxing movie and the result is unfortunately a missed opportunity for all involved.

The film begins with a documentary crew interviewing washed-up boxer Dickey Eklund (Christian Bale), who was once known as “The Pride of Lowell, MA”, for an HBO film about crack addiction.  I’m sorry to say that yes, Dickey is a crack head and Christian Bale plays him like a crack head.  He slurs his words, makes contorted faces at the camera, won’t control his urge to scream and at first we think maybe he has some sort of mental problem.  However, despite his addiction and his forever-fried brain, he seems to have a good heart.  It is evident that Dickey would love to make a come-back in the boxing arena, but that horse has long since left the barn and Dickey knows it, so instead of re-training himself, he sets about training his half-brother Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) as a boxer.  The only problem is that if you are trained by a crack head, you’ll probably fight like one, and sure enough “Irish” Mickey looses fight after fight (although it seemed like each time he got hurt in the exact same spot).

I don’t know why, but the story about Mickey’s boxing career just isn’t that interesting.  Watching him get beat up and mope about it just didn’t “hook” me.  Every time he looses a fight he says, “I’m gonna quit now,” but do you think he ever does?  No sir.  The only reason he doesn’t quit is because of his controlling, well meaning yet misguided shrew of a mother called Alice (Melissa Leo) who also serves as Mickey’s manager.  What Rose Hovick was to Gypsy Rose Lee, Alice Eklund is to “Irish” Mickey Ward.  She’s a stage mom, or in this case, a ring mom.  Although she has a rather large husband, she pretty much rules the roost around here, and whenever something is amiss in the family she and her platoon of ragamuffin daughters go out and “fix” it.  Melissa Leo’s performance is probably the best in the film.

To counterweight all of his white trash relatives, he finds solace in a young bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams), who is an educated version of the “Seven Weird Sisters”.  I like Amy Adams in this movie.  She’s no ditzy pushover like many of the female tag-alongs in sports movies, and actually provides the backbone for Mickey to suffer through his mother and his brother.  I think that it’s a safe understatement that Charlene’s intrusion into family life doesn’t sit well with Alice.  Now, one must understand that all of this interpersonal and relationship issues in the film are interesting and moving, but the overall arc of the boxer who rises to fame is pretty ordinary if you ask me.  I think the film would have been much better had it focused more on the “love story” of Charlene and Mickey, or on the relationship with Mickey and his mom, rather than on his boxing career.  I don’t quite know why I found the boxing so dull, but I did.  It seemed like I had seen it several times before.

Now at this point, if you wish to be surprised by the film, read no further, for I may reveal some spoilers.  Were this film a fictional creation, I wouldn’t do this, but since many people already know the tale of Mickey Ward I’ll go ahead and reveal the ending (I think those who don’t know the story can guess any way).  Something that really irked me about the main plot of the film was its ending.  It had to end, like almost every boxing or sports movie does, with the big victory or championship.  Not that I want the characters to loose, but things don’t happen like that in real life.  Life is not just smooth sailing from the moment you win the championship to the day you die.  I would really like to see a film that starts with the big victory and then shows the aftermath: whether or not the victory was actually a good thing or not.  I’ll say it again: The Fighter was a missed opportunity.  I suppose the acting here can’t really be faulted.  Melissa Leo and Amy Adams just give it their all and they are both excellent in their respective roles.  I especially like the scenes in which these two are together, and the contempt between the two characters is chilling to watch.  Many people have raved about Christian Bale’s performance, and he certainly deserves it.  At first, I thought it was a bit over the top, but on consideration, his characterization is spot on. He just manages to get that empty addict’s stare down perfectly.  Sometimes, however, the performance just becomes a little too hard to watch.

I wish that before writers and directors set about making a movie (especially when it’s a true story) that they would really think about what kind of film they are making and whether or not they can do anything new with it.  If the writers had thought some more, maybe they would have discovered that the story of “Irish” Mickey Ward just isn’t really worth making, not because of who and what the characters are, but for the simple reason that his story is so ordinary.  How many movies have been made about sportsman who start down-and-out and become something “special”?  Too many.  Had the writers realized that they couldn’t do anything original with the subject matter, a different film might have arrived and I wouldn’t be reviewing The Fighter now.  It seems that the filmmakers did not understand that the real story here is a family saga about the inner workings of an underprivileged family.  But then again, we already had one of those this year too.  That movie is called Winter’s Bone, and I’d take that over The Fighter any day.

Paramount Pictures Presents in association with Relativity Media and the Weinstein Company a Mandeville Films production

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, Jack McGee, Melissa McKeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate B.  O’Brien, Frank Renzulli.  Directed by David O.  Russell

Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.  Release Date: 17 December 2010

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