December 19, 2010

Jab, Jab, Uppercut, KO!!

Gotta love the inspirational sports flick, don't ya? I mean, they're just so uplifting, right? An underdog rises to the top with the help of his loved ones, deals with issues along the way, almost loses everything in the final hour, and then returns a new man and defeats the defending champ, who is a total dick. It's nice to know that this tried and true formula hasn't been done to death and that all these elements haven't at all become cliches.
Ha ha ha ha ha! Had you going there for a second, didn't I? No, for real though, it's actually kinda scary how religiously sports films follow the same formula! ATTENTION FILM MAKERS!!! YOUR FILM IS NOT GOING TO EVER MATCH ROCKY!!! STOP TRYING!!! I will say this though. If a film can take the cliches but do them well and layer them on top of other things like good acting and some cool stylistic choices, then I'll turn a blind eye. The Fighter is such a film. Put simply, The Fighter is one of the best examples of this genre since Rocky introduced it to us. Not only does it handle the tried and true story of an underdogs meteoric rise to the top, but it adds to it with a harrowing depiction of drug addiction and a family on the verge of exploding. That, and some of the coolest boxing scenes to come around in a long while. Oh, and some stupendous acting. You'll like this one, methinks.


The Fighter is based on the true story of the "Irish" Mickey Ward and his brother, Dicky Ecklund. Dicky is something of a legend in their home town of Lowell, Massachusetts, having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard during his fighting days. Unfortunately, these days, he's a raging crack head. He's also Mickey's trainer, and his addiction is seriously affecting the work he's doing in that field, leading Mickey to lose an embarrassing amount of fights in a row. Eventually, Dicky is busted and sent to prison, and Mickey begins to train anew, with a new crew and new management. This works out for him, and soon he begins to enjoy an ascension in the ranks, eventually coming within reach of a title. As Mikey comes ever closer to winning that humongous belt, Dicky does everything he can to sober up and redeem himself so that he can help his brother achieve everything he couldn't.

So, yeah. Sounds quite a lot like Rocky, don't it? The underdog who's training isn't great in the beginning of the film? His realization that he's been holding back? His new training regimen, shown via montage? The victories? The championship match? It's a hell of a lot like Rocky. I'm going to forgive this film in that regard though, because it is a true story. All the fight shown here happened, so, if someone wants to make a film about a real life Rocky, let em'. What sets The Fighter apart from the rest of the "inspirational sports film" pack is that it isn't really about the sport. It's about the relationship between Mickey and Dicky, and how the tolls of fighting and the tolls of addiction effect that bond. The boxing is just there as a foundation. It's the other levels that make The Fighter what it is. 

I take it back! Andrew Garfield isn't even gonna come close to touching a statue come Oscar night. The winner for Best Supporting Actor has been picked, and it's Christian Bale for his no-holds barred portrayal of Dicky. In order to effectively portray a addict, Bale lost all of his Batman weight, dropping back down to Machinist levels of thin. He looks the part, but looks can only take you so far. Thankfully, he nails the acting as well, perfecting all the mannerisms of crack head, from the twitches to the impulsive behavior, as well as giving us a damaged character who is just simply trying to do right by his brother, but keeps screwing up. It's a sad performance, and his slow redemption is actually more uplifting than the boxing matches. Bale has always taken his work extremely seriously (light guy tirade anyone?) and no where is that more apparent than in The Fighter. It's the most devastating of his performances so far, and he knocks it out of the park. 

The role of Mickey is filled by director David O' Russell's go-to guy, Mark Wahlberg. Again, I feel I must be a callous objectifier and single out Wahlberg's physicality in the film above all else. He took his role as this famous pugilist almost as seriously as DeNiro did for Raging Bull, training hard for many months before hand, and refusing to use stunt double during shooting. The result is that Wahlberg is the one throwing the punches and getting clouted in the face, and it only adds to an already raw performance from him. True, he's playing the role of inspirational hero, but he does it very well. Can't fault a guy if the role he's playing is older than he is if he plays it well.  

Amy Adams and Melissa Leo round out the main cast as Mickey's squeeze, Charlene, and Mickey and Dicky's mother, respectively. I'll be honest. I'm not as familiar with Adam's work as I should be. That being said, I am aware that a foul mouthed, tough broad is not the role she usually plays, so it's nice to see stepping out of her comfort zone. Leo is also excellent as Mickey's overbearing mother/manager. I gotta say. Mickey Ward must be the most patient mofo to ever walk this earth, because if I had a family that was that aggravating, I would've decked them a long time ago! Leo is very convincing as a mother trying to save one son while trying to help another succeed. It's a good job. 

Everyone here does a good job, but it's Bale that really stands out. He's simply marvelous!

Yeesh! That can't be healthy.

David O' Russell hasn't really enjoyed the fame that he should. Since Three Kings, all he's done is the largely ignored I Heart Huckabees. He returns to form with The Fighter, and reminds the world how a sports movie should be done. Most sports movies these days make it about the sport and seem to forget about the people playing them. O' Russell took the opposite approach with The Fighter, making the sport a little bit of an afterthought as opposed to the characters. This is further emphasized by his brilliant choice to film the fights with the exact same format that HBO and ESPN uses. It looks really cool, but it detaches us from the actual fights, since it looks exactly the same as every boxing match that you see on TV. This leaves us ready to focus on the characters and their relationships outside of the ring, and it works wonderfully. It's a shame though. O' Russell did so well with this movie, you'd think he'd be going to direct the next great thing. Unfortunately, no. No, his career is about to run smack into a brick wall, since O' Russell is now officially the helmer of the video game adaptation, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Not good! Not good at all!

The Fighter is the sports film that all the recent ones strive to be, but can't. It puts the actual sport on the backburner, leaving it there as spring board for more interesting things. The depiction of crack addiction in this film is raw and harrowing; the presentation of the brother's relationship is relatable and real. The fights look cool, and the acting, especially from Bale, is aces! This one beats the competition. No question. TKO!

Just one question before I leave you. Why do people who live in Massachusetts curse so friggin' much? Just a thought... 


  1. Glad to hear your thoughts on Bale's Oscar chances. He should have won before, but I'll take it.

  2. If this movie proves anything it's that Christian Bale is the greatest actor of his generation.

  3. @Fitz: Yeah. I really hope he goes all the way this year.

    @CMrok93: I don't know if he's the absolute 'best" of his generation (I think that's JoGo), but he is damn good!

  4. Glad to hear your thoughts on Bale's Oscar chances. He should have won before, but I'll take it.