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The Fighter is a drama about boxer "Irish" Micky Ward's unlikely road to the world light welterweight title. His Rocky-like rise was shepherded by half-brother Dicky, a boxer-turned-trainer on the verge of being KO'd by drugs and crime. Written by
The Fighter has been a must-see film of mine ever since at least the end of October. Not only did the cast look to function as one strong, cohesive unit, Christian Bale looked to transform himself yet again and had gotten completely absorbed in his role as Dicky Eklund. From just viewing the trailer, Bale seemed to give a performance that reminded his fans just how talented he can actually be. The Fighter also seemed to have a lot of emotion and heart; two key ingredients that go on to making movies like this legendary. The real test would be if The Fighter could hold up to other great boxing films like Rocky or Raging Bull and in this critic's humble opinion, it does just that.
Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) is following in his brother Dicky's (Bale) footsteps and is trying to make a name for himself as a boxer. Dicky has been giving Mickey advice and helping Mickey train for as long as they can both remember while their mother Alice (Leo) has been acting as his manager the entire time. Mickey knows it's time for a change if he expects to make a serious impact in the boxing world, but a crack addicted brother and a mom who thinks she's helping his career when she's really hurting it have both been holding him back for far too long. So when Charlene (Adams) and Mickey become an item and Dicky winds up in prison, Mickey makes the hardest decision of his life and keeps fighting with new management in tow and seemingly pushes his family out. As Mickey's mother tries to wrap her head around her son replacing her as manager, all hell breaks loose once Dicky gets out of prison. As the date for the most important fight in Mickey's career fast approaches, will he have the support of his family or has everything already fallen apart past the point of being repaired?
The cast is the driving force behind this film. The relationships and arguments that take place between Mickey, Dicky, their mother, her seven daughters, George Ward (Jack McGee), Charlene, and Mickey O'Keefe (as himself) are really the heart behind all the boxing that takes place. Melissa Leo turns in an emotionally powerful performance as you can tell she only wants the best for her family, does everything within her power to do just that, and still seems to wind up hurting them in the long run. Amy Adams character, Charlene, seems to want nothing more than to be with Mickey but is also relying on his success to be the ticket to her bettering her life. Then there's Mark Wahlberg who always seems to play the same role with the same thick Boston accent. The thing about Mickey though is that Wahlberg fits the part very well. The extensive training Wahlberg went through and his experience made him a shoe-in for this role. The real gem of the film is Christian Bale though. Bale has been rather disappointing performance-wise since The Dark Knight and it's nice to see him back in top form here. He surely looks the part as his awkward body language, sick, clammy skin tone, and the way he seems to be chewing on something when he's not eating anything really makes him come off as a genuine crack addict. I was beginning to think that success had gotten to his head, but even if it has it's great to know that he can still turn in engaging performances like this when he feels like it.
What's interesting is the song, "How You Like Me Now?" by The Heavy that was also used in the trailers for Faster is used several times in The Fighter. It seems to be utilized more efficiently in The Fighter though. It felt like the song was used in Faster just because it sounded cool, but the song seems to have a stronger impact in a film about a boxer trying to turn his life around better than a film about a guy trying to gain revenge for his brother's death. It was a very welcome addition to the soundtrack and makes the opening segment to The Fighter even more memorable than it already was.
The film also wastes little time taking full control of your attention. You don't lose interest until that screen turns black. With the little bits of humor thrown in for good measure amongst all of the family brawling and knockout punches being thrown around, it was just really easy to get lost in the film. It was almost as if you were part of the documentary crew filming Dicky watching this all take place in person. The one complaint I have is that it all seems to end rather prematurely. While everything does come together nicely, the ending just doesn't feel fully gratifying. It felt like the film ended right in the middle of the climax, but consider it a nitpick. It's still an excellent film.
The Fighter is an engrossing and emotionally powerful drama that features an incredibly strong cast and the best performance from Christian Bale in a long, long time. I honestly haven't liked a boxing film this much since Raging Bull. With all of the end of the year awards talk and so many movies being released recently and in the coming weeks that'll be potential award winners, it is well worth every effort to see The Fighter in theaters. It has one of the most well-rounded and well put-together casts of any film to be released in theaters this year and deserves to be seen on the big screen.
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