The Fighter (15)

Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
On general release from 2nd February 2011

Reviewed by Craig Kell

Though boxing has never been one of my favourite sports in life, it has played a huge role in some of the more successful sports films, beginning with Sylvester Stallone's popular Rocky franchise followed by Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Raging Bull (1980), and continues to attract Hollywood names like Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and Clint Eastwood. This trend of the rags-to-riches story persists with David O. Russell's gritty but terrific flick The Fighter, which has become the latest boxing film to attract big names to the genre and allow audiences to be intrigued by a gutsy true-life story worthy of the Hollywood makeover, overshadowing other sports like football which have never translated as well to the big screen.

Set between the late 1980s and early 90s, the film chronicles the story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) whose ambition in life is to take a title shot and become a champion. Having been raised in a tough neighbourhood in Boston with an over supportive family to grind him down, however, Micky's dream faces serious doubts. Although given further training from his brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a former boxer who defeated Sugar Ray Leonard, Micky, now in his early 30s, knows it's time for a change if he expects to make a serious impact in the boxing world having been held back so long. However, problems arise when Dicky, now battling a drug addiction, lets Micky down during training sessions and their mother Alice (Melissa Leo), unaware of Dicky's addiction and that Micky wants a change in his boxing career, becomes increasingly overprotective of them. To further complicate things, Micky meets feisty waitress Charlene (Amy Adams) and falls in love with her but his family disapprove of the relationship which becomes evident when he loses a crucial boxing fight. He is given another opportunity of having a title shot, but on the condition that he ditches his family's support and undergoes new management much to their dismay. Dicky soon ends up in prison but it doesn't stop Micky 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?

Known to be controversial, director David O. Russell has silenced his critics by making a fascinating and tough film that continues the popular theme of boxing and allows it to become a contender in its own right for the award season. His characters have a harsh reality to them and, in addition to looks, clothes and mannerisms, Russell opts for a documentary feel for the film even using lenses like the ones used in the late 90s for parts of the boxing sequences to emulate 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. Mark Wahlberg gives us one of his 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' character seems to want nothing more than to be with Micky but is also relying on his success to be the ticket to her bettering her life, her sassy but foul-mouthed performance is in complete contrast to her delightful, lovable role in Enchanted (2007), giving a taste of her versatility. Melissa Leo turns in an emotionally powerful performance as a mother who only wants the best for her family, doing everything within her power to achieve this yet with the opposite effect. It'll be interesting to see if 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, yet underrated, performance that should really have got more attention as his character keeps the supporting cast together. However, the real winner here is Christian Bale who physically transformed himself for the part, and wows us not by focusing on theatrical mannerisms or wallowing in melodrama but by revealing the person behind the addiction; he plays Dicky Eklund, not a generalised drug addict.

However, The Fighter doesn't quite hit the emotional mark like its predecessors Rocky or Cinderella Man in producing the triumphant rags-to-riches story; once we get to the end, we aren't cheering as much for Micky as we would for say, Rocky Balboa or Jimmy Braddock. You also can't help but feel that the film is just too foul-mouthed to really appeal to audiences and although it may be set in a tough environment, some of the language is a rather unnecessary; Amy Adam's character, surprisingly, being the most guilty of the characters in that department. Also, as most other people have commented, the sisters in the Ward/Eklund family are stereotypically played as bitchy hags who spend most of the film sniping at Charlene and are not hugely supportive of Micky on his way to championship glory. Overall the electrifying performances and productive story are what helps The Fighter continue the great tradition of 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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