Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Movie Review: The Fighter

The Fighter *** ½
Directed By:
David O. Russell.
Written By: Scott Silver & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Mickey Ward), Christian Bale (Dicky Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene Fleming), Melissa Leo (Alice Ward), Mickey O'Keefe (Himself), Jack McGee (George Ward), Melissa McMeekin ('Little Alice' Eklund), Bianca Hunter (Cathy 'Pork' Eklund), Erica McDermott (Cindy 'Tar' Ecklund), Jill Quigg (Donna Eklund Jaynes), Dendrie Taylor (Gail 'Red Dog' Eckland), Kate B. O'Brien (Phyllis 'Beaver' Eklund), Jenna Lamia (Sherri Ward), Frank Renzulli (Sal Lanano), Paul Campbell (Gary 'Boo Boo' Giuffrida).

I’m a sucker for a good sports melodrama – and The Fighter is a great one. It tells the story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts who gets one final shot at the big time – and makes good. Yet strangely, Mickey is the quietest character in the movie – the calm center if you will. He is surrounded by such colorful characters though, that it is good that Mickey is so grounded. There is only so much craziness one movie can handle – and The Fighter has just enough.

Mickey is the younger brother of Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard – and brags that he knocked him down (although, it does kind of look like Sugar Ray tripped). That was in 1978 though, and now it’s 1993 and Dicky has fallen into crack addiction. HBO is following him around making a movie, and he tells everyone it’s about his “comeback” – but it’s not. It’s about his fall into drug addiction – a promising boxer who screwed himself. But he still trains Mickey – when he can remember to show up at the gym that is.

Dicky would seem to be enough for one family to handle – but poor Mickey has more. His mother Alice (Melissa Leo) is his manager, although she seems to care much more about Dicky and his problems than with helping Mickey and his career. To her, Dicky is an innocent victim – even when she watches the movie on HBO and hears him talking about his drug use, she wonders aloud if the camera crew set him up to look bad. There are also seven very loud, very angry sisters who almost seem to meld into one screaming banshee at times. It’s no wonder Mickey is so quiet – he never gets a chance to speak, and is always trying to keep the peace.

The Fighter ticks off the sports movie clichés one by one. A fighter who is getting one final chance at the big time. Check. Meeting a beautiful, supportive woman – Charlene (Amy Adams). Check. An injury that seems to end all hope (Mickey comes to the aid of Dicky who is being arrested and gets his hand broken in the process). Check. The Fighter has them all and more. Yet what’s strange is how organic the film feels, how natural. Yes, these are clichés, but they are also true and in the hands of director David O. Russell, who gives the film an intimate feel, captures the working class Lowell perfectly, and stages some of the most brutal fight scenes in recent memory, it feels true.

He is aided greatly by his cast – one of the best ensembles of the year. Mark Wahlberg has a rather thankless role – he has to remain grounded and quiet, because if he started screaming than the movie runs the risk of descending into chaos. But he keeps the movie grounded in his reality – and it’s a fine performance. Christian Bale gives one of his best performances ever as Dicky. Yes, it’s a great role – actors love to play drug addicts, and Bale is gifted at hitting all the notes we expect to see from a guy playing a drug addict, but it’s more than that. Dicky is a larger than life, gregarious person – someone who you cannot help but like, even as you watch him destroy himself. It is sometimes easy to forget just how good an actor Bale can be when he plays Batman (which he does perfectly, but he is not a very complex guy), but watching The Fighter I was reminded of that skill Bale has shown in movies like American Psycho, The Machinist and Rescue Dawn. This truly is one of the best performances of the year. Not to be outdone, Melissa Leo grabs hold of her white trash role as their mother, and doesn’t let go. With the big hair, a cigarette constantly dangling from her mouth, and that accent, it would have been easy for the role to descend into cliché territory – but like Bale, she finds the core of the character and delivers a performance of a woman who is both selfish and loving – she values family above all, yet seems to be willing to sell out Mickey for Dicky. Even better than Leo is Amy Adams – that adorable actress we all fell in love with in June bug and Enchanted, and played innocent so wonderfully in Doubt. I think Adams may have taken this role simply because it is so different than everything she is known for – in a movie that drops the F bomb seemingly every 15 seconds or so, I think Adams swears more than anyone else in the film. Like Bale and Leo, her role as the supportive girlfriend could easily have been a cliché – but Adams makes Charlene into a three dimensional character – I love the way she doesn’t back down from Leo or Mickey’s sisters when they insult her, and her profanity fueled tirade at Dicky is one of the best moments of the year.

So yes, The Fighter is a clichéd sports melodrama. It is very much like Rocky, with a lot more swearing. Yet the direction by Russell and the performances of the cast elevate the movie beyond where most movies of its sort go – and makes The Fighter one of the great entertainments of the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment