The Fighter (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Fighter (2010)

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ANDREW LIKELess magical than Rocky, but more potent than anything Play it to the Bone could muster, suggestive of our modern economic condition and carrying a trio of excellent performances - The Fighter has arrived on DVD.  Christian Bale and Melissa Leo claimed two Oscars and the film generated quite a bit of buzz as a best-picture candidate.  It's not hard to see why; it's crowd-pleasing but only to a point where the realities of the current American experience set in.

The opening shot settles on Dicky Edlund (Christian Bale); gaunt, wiry, unable to stay still and shadow boxing with invisible opponents only he can see.  It doesn't take long to intuit that something's wrong.  Shambling onscreen is his half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a Lowell boxer who's taken the mantle of "Fighter" for the beleaguered community and his hefty extended family.  A camera crew is documenting the experience, a document that Dicky believes is of his comeback but serves a far more important purpose.

Micky loves his brother and wants Dicky to assist with his training but is constantly undercut by their mother Alice (Melissa Leo).  All the affection in her life has been channeled to keeping the illusion alive that Dicky could create a comeback and all her cynicism to suppressing Micky's aspirations as a boxer.  She's a tough broad, she is, and she'd have to be to ignore Dicky's obvious problem and still maintain her brutal stance toward Micky.  Still, Micky finds some solace in the arms of Charlene (Amy Adams), a very sweet bartender who senses his troubles and with her help he fights to break free of his mother's management and go his own way.

Damn fine romance between Wahlberg and Adams, even if it doesn't start on the best terms.

This is the first film in six years by David O. Russell, who was once in the vaunted leagues of P.T. Anderson and Spike Jonze as the new wave of brilliant filmmakers.  He's still got a little ways to go (Three Kings is still a far more ambitious picture) but he brings a crackling energy to The Fighter.  The film is always sparring with someone on- or off-scree with someone throwing punches verbally or physically as Russell pairs his actors off against one another.

All this energy is pent up in one source, Christian Bale.  I still enjoyed the man but his alternately angry/gruff shtick has grown a bit tiresome over the last few years.  It's refreshing to see him play someone so optimistic and needy, so weak in his addiction but so pure in thinking that he can make it back in the ring one day.  His Oscar was well-deserved even if he wasn't my choice for the statue.  Melissa Leo I'm still a little less impressed by but she did well and her scenes with Dicky hint at how close she is to the end of her rope.  In a film that seems engineered to be a crowd pleaser it's no wonder that some of that Oscar build-up was thrown in her direction as well.

Back to that plot; it's a hodgepodge of underdog cliche's that are well played by director and cast but end in something of an anticlimax.  There are very few actual boxing fights to be seen and the championship bout feels perfunctory, like we're just going through the motions with the win.  Typically a film is going to play up this moment for all it's worth but it's something of an afterthought here.

There's a whole lot of bitterness and optimism on-screen anytime Leo and Bale are together.

The Fighter isn't really about that moment though.  Boxing movies are myth-building exercises and this one comes to us at a time where we don't cater much to myths anymore.  Micky may be the hope of his community, the one that will bring them some economic luck in their hard times, but the story climaxes in the year 2000 and we're looking at it 10 years later.  Sure the prosperity and growth of the 90's could still be felt but they didn't know of the hard times that lay ahead regardless of Micky's career.  This takes some of the luster off his victories and helps ground his defeats, the myth is one of one man winning and that's all.  The neighborhood won't be rising from the ashes of it's former self like a phoenix.

It's this sadness and reality that gives Russell's energy and Bale's performance all the more weight.  It doesn't matter if we know the way the story will turn out.  Our actions may be meaningless in the long-term but they're always worth fighting for.  Just make sure that you have the right loved ones in your corner...and forget the myth.

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The Fighter (2010)

Directed by David O. Russell.
Screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams.

Posted by Andrew

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