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In many ways, "The Fighter" is the film of 2011. A family drama with a pugilistic background. The punches, physical and emotional in and out of the ring took me completely by surprise. What didn't surprise me was Mark Whalberg's signature all over the place. Let me explain: Many years ago I was at a lecture by director Martin Donovan when during the Q&A somebody made fun of the fact that Calvin Klein underwear model Marky Mark had played a part (his first acting role) in Donovan's made for TV "The Substitute" Donovan with elegance and firmness destroyed the guy asking the question, describing Whalberg's strengths and ended up saying "Mark Whalberg will be one of the top actors around and he will probably be running Hollywood within a decade" I had Donovan's words buzzing in my ears when I sat speechless watching "Boogie Nights". Whalberg also produced "Entourage" and the startling "In Treatment". He now produced "The Fighter" and his performance, interior and powerful, dominates the film allowing other members of the cast, to shine in truly showy roles, Christian Bale for instance - really good. Melissa Leo is a stand out as the mother/manager. Superb. So I won't be surprised to see Mark Whalberg receiving the top honors at the next Academy Awards, as an actor and producer. He certainly deserves it. Bravo!
After Rocky, Raging Bull, Ali, Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella man, and
many others, one begins to wonder how many more boxing movies we really
need in the world, and what a new one can bring to the table. Indeed,
watching The Fighter, one can't help but wonder what the film can do to
renew the genre and bring something new to the table. Unfortunately,
the answer is "nothing much". The script is a pretty conventional
rags-to-riches story, whose most interesting element is the
relationship between Micky Ward and his brother, Dickie Eklund.
Luckily, Russell and company recognized that this was the strongest
aspect of what is otherwise a good but ordinary and somewhat flawed
script, with some problems with flat characterizations and
unnatural-sounding dialogue. However, everyone involved in the film
tries their best to transcend the script, and for the most part, they
Russell's direction is absolutely fantastic. His use of the camera which still has that indie looseness, free-moving and hand-held and gritty quality to it, which really adds to the atmosphere and energy the film tries to capture. His staging of scenes is fantastic and he usually just lets his actors riff off of one another, sometimes sticking to the script but sometimes talking over one another, interrupting, and creating a very dynamic back-and- forth that further lends to the realistic quality of the film and its setting. A fantastic rock- oriented soundtrack only adds to this energy and atmosphere. In terms of bringing something new to the table of boxing movies, Russell employs a very interesting technique of filming the boxing scenes as they were shown on HBO pay-per-view TV in the 90's; cheap video quality, multi-camera set-ups, the whole package. The boxing scenes were all shot over 3 days, which left the crew just enough time to run through one boxing match at a time and just shooting it as if it were an actual match, the cameras capturing everything, including mistakes and mess-ups and spontaneous, uncontrolled occurrences which yet again add to the very loose and realistic style the film attempts to capture. It is a very interesting and unique technique I have not seen used before, and I thought it was a fresh approach to boxing scenes, which have become very conventional ever since Raging Bull.
Ultimately, though, this is a movie about two brothers and their overcoming demons and obstacles in order to succeed and reach their mutual goal, together. Being a character-based film, the success of the acting is a key to the success of the film, and luckily, it is in this field that the film succeeds the most. Mark Wahlberg is adequate in the lead role of Micky Ward. I have never thought much of him as an actor and think that he did an "okay" job on this film; not bad but not particularly noteworthy. However, his supporting cast all shine, and his chemistry with them, especially with Christian Bale, is really what sells the movie for me. Bale's achievement is nothing short of revolutionary. He completely steals the show as Micky's crack-addicted older brother and trainer, a former boxer himself, and a shadow of his old self, except he can still throw one hell of a punch and knows just what Micky needs to do in order to succeed. Bale completely embodies the role and really gives it his all both in his appearance (hollow cheeks, bulgy eyes, balding) but also in his bravura performance. It is an incredible feat of acting, one of the best I have seen all year; Bale's best work as an actor yet, and totally deserving of all the accolades it will inevitably receive. Also worth mentioning though are the two main female supporting roles, namely Amy Adams as the tough and sassy but supportive girlfriend, and Melissa Leo as the overbearing mother. Both actresses are very much out of their comfort zone, which is just what makes their performances so good. Adams, who has never really shown her tough side like she does in this film, does a spectacular job, and really creates someone human and relatable out of what is otherwise an underwritten character. The same goes for Melissa Leo: her character could have gone the completely one-dimensional villainous way, but Leo adds a certain humanity to the character which just makes her seem more sad than vicious.
Ultimately, The Fighter tells a pretty conventional story in an interesting and not necessarily conventional way. It is a film that could have been over-dramatized and heavy-handed had it been put in another director's hands (see Cinderella Man for an example of over- dramatization), but Russell and his cast reign it in and set out to create a very specific atmosphere and set a particular mood that lends the film a sense of realism and a very unique dynamic energy that, with the help of the fantastic performances from the cast, help carry it above and beyond its conventional script.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story of Micky "Irish" Ward and his boxing career with his crack
addicted brother at his side. Apparently Marky Mark was so hell bent on
getting this film made that he stayed in "shape" for years and years
just in case the film went into production. That's dedication and
passion for you, yet the man still manages to be the weak link.
It's not really his fault, David O. Russell packed the film with a lot of talent. Christian Bale plays Dicky Ecklund, Micky's crack addicted brother who tells the same story over and over again, about him knocking out Sugar Ray Leonard. It's his claim to fame. There is a film crew following him around, he thinks it's going to be about his comeback, yet it's really about the harsh realities of crack addiction. Bale, again, submerses himself in the role. He is pure method. You can not like him as a person, or even an actor, but you can't deny his passion for the art. He is on the thin side again, with thin balding hair and brown teeth. He looks deathly ill in every scene. The man has one of his finest roles to date and will no doubt be nominated come award season. I hope he actually takes home the award. He is without a doubt, the most interesting character in the film.
Their mother is played by Melissa Leo, another performance worthy of recognition come award season. Her desire to see her kids rise to fame blind her from the truth. She denies the drugs and the failures and believes she knows what's best for her kids. This means not letting them get a real chance because it would be with a real manager and she would be left behind. Family is important to her and she wants to keep everyone very close, even if it harms their chance at making a name for themselves. She of course, doesn't realize this. Amy Adams is the love interest, you know there had to be one. She manages to pull Micky away from the family that is dragging him down. They don't like her for it. She has her own inspirations too, yet the story isn't interested in them. The main focus of the film is with Micky's bumpy road to the championship fight. Since this is based on a true story, I can't really fault it for becoming a bit formulaic and predictable, yet it is.
David O. Russell is notorious for getting angry and violent with his crew/cast. He was in a physical fight with George Clooney on the set of Three Kings and anyone can go on youtube and check out the melt down he and Lily Tomlin had on the set of I Heart Huckabees. Both films coincidentally star Mark Walhberg, so it seems he doesn't have a problem working with the combative director. I can't deny that the man has talent. I really love Three Kings and found I Heart Huckabees to be an ambitious project for the sheer weirdness of it all. With The Fighter, he plays to a more conventional audience. In terms of boxing films, it works. It plays on the down and out character, the poverty of his life and the sheer determination he has to make a name for himself. It's no Rocky, or as others have mentioned Raging Bull, but it is good enough to be mentioned with them.
Russell always has an eye for a creative shot. Check out Three Kings colour scheme for what I mean. Here he uses TV cameras for the boxing matches. Interesting move, it feels like we are watching it at home and are not really in the ring with them. I admire directors who think outside of the box. Russell does this, no problem. He also decides to include real footage of the characters. The film has some home video segments throughout and during the credits we get to meet the real Micky Ward and Dicky Eckland, which is even more reason to appreciate Bale's performance.
The film trips a bit because of the lack of emotion from Walhberg. I dig the guy and enjoy his films, but his range isn't there yet. When given a role that he can play the absurdity of, he scores. Watch The Departed for that. For a film where the audience needs to get behind a character, to root and cheer for them to overcome their obstacles, he falls a little short. Thank goodness the film makes up for this with the performances from Bale and Leo.
The Fighter features great music, engaging performances and a predictable, yet true story. I felt attached to the characters and hoping they would make smart decisions. If a film can get me to care about the characters, I say bravo.
The Fighter is a winner in my books.
Such a fully satisfying film is a rarity. A story of family, struggle, and love told with great humor, intelligence and heart. I've already seen it twice and am telling everyone I meet to be sure to catch it. I was blown away by Amy Adams' touching performance in JUNE BUG and by the raw beauty of Melissa Leo's work in FROZEN RIVER, but have been slow to distinguish among the crop of young male stars and directors who deserve to be household names. Christian BALE, MARK WAHLBERG, and David O. RUSSELL are names now branded in my consciousness. This season I've been stunned by the creative forces at work in films including SOCIAL NETWORK and JACK GOES BOATING, but for its overall achievement, this amazing film based on the true story of two boxers from Lowell, Massachusetts earns a championship. It is much more than just a fight film or a biopic though it certainly sweeps us into the drama of the boxing ring and quivers with the diamond gleam of truth. Bale's finely etched creation of Dicky and Wahlberg's extraordinary dual turn as producer and star in the role of Dicky's brother Micky should place both men front and center for Oscar nominations along with Russell who shaped the film with a keen sensitivity. Russel's team of artists including cinematographer, costume and sound design were all spot on in their respective contributions. Tho Leo and her gaggle of daughters struck me at first as verging on caricature, I quickly saw that they perfectly captured the family culture while providing a delicious comic motif.
This is the film that David O'Russell and the cast and crew have
outdone themselves on. the best way to say it is WIcked outstanding. It
not only told the story of "Irish" Micky Ward, Dickie Eklund and the
family aspect but was a credit to the real internal and external
struggle of never giving up. "the fighter " does proper justice to the
hardworking ways and the People of Mass and Boston areas.
In this film , the title has a double meaning as not only being a fighter as a boxer but speaks to many that in regular life that being "The Fighter" success can happen if you put the work in. The story does have strong female leads in this film that has never been shown in previous boxing based films. It is a cross over to both worlds ( male and female, Young and Old) and those that would usually skip a Boxing based film as it is much more then just that.
I was at screening of "The Fighter" in the Beverly Hills theater with Director David O'Russell and main Cast ( Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams ,Melissa Leo) The Director and cast show their love and passion for this film and how hard they all worked to make this possible in their very warm words and replies to the questions from the audience. In all , a class group of fine professionals and actors put their heart and soul into this one and I hope their efforts are well rewarded when it comes time to nominate and vote for Oscars.
Wow, what a movie. It's an inspirational true story of a boxer finally
getting his break. It's also a story of addiction, and how it can
affect loved ones. And above all, it's about family. There are some
great boxing scenes in THE FIGHTER, they feel authentic and brutal, but
the true fight is really outside the ring. Which is not to say this is
an overbearing melodrama, no, far from it. It handles the subject
matter gracefully. It has a lot of heart and can be quite funny, and
there are some humorously absurd moments, something director David O.
Russell has proved to be very good at providing.
Mark Wahlberg gives a great performance playing the lead character, Micky. This is Wahlberg's most reserved and complex role to date. Micky has an unbreakable devotion to his family, which both strengthens and cripples him. He never really speaks for himself, and would rather suffer than upset those around him. Through the course of the movie the character really grows, thanks to the help of a good woman by his side. Mark Wahlberg shows a side of himself we've never seen before, this isn't the over-the-top badass THE DEPARTED Wahlberg, which don't get me wrong, is awesome too, but he finds a different range here. Truly the guy has come a long way from The Funky Bunch.
Christian Bale is absolutely phenomenal in his scene-stealing role as Micky's drug-addicted brother. This is such a great character that Bale really brings a lot of depth to. Dicky's easily angered, often detached and oblivious to how his affliction is affecting his life. He's also ashamed and vulnerable. He's not the most reliable guy in the world and he's in need of a serious wake-up call. But the thing is...you can completely understand why Micky would stand by him for so long. Underneath it all, he really is a great guy, full of energy and affection- somebody you'd really want in your corner. This is sure to go down as one of Bale's most remembered roles, and hopefully his enormous talent will finally be recognized by winning an Academy Award for it.
Behind every great man is a great woman, and Amy Adams also delivers a fantastic performance as Micky's girlfriend, who really helps him develop some backbone and at the same time is able to find some clarity in her misguided life. She's great in her role, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't thoroughly enjoy the eye-candy she brings to the movie. She has her fair share of revealing outfits and in one scene is shown wearing a see-through bra. Now THAT'S great filmmaking!
Also notable, just because it stood out to me, is that Conan O'Brien's sister, Kate, has a role in the movie, playing one of Micky's sisters. I sort of wish I wasn't privy to this information before seeing it because her resemblance to the goofy talk show host is uncanny...and a little disturbing.
I don't know why a lot of the most involving sports movies happen to be about boxing, I guess there's just something so primal and against all logic about people that get the crap beaten out of them for a living. It's worth knowing what makes these people tick. Yes, this is based on a true story, but I'm sure it's been tailored to fit Hollywood needs. Events have likely been rearranged and certain moments probably fabricated or altered, but THE FIGHTER doesn't attempt to portray the family shown here in a completely positive light. Nobody is a saint here, and everyone has their faults. When it finally arrives at its conclusion it is relieving, satisfying, and yes, inspiring. This is ultimately a happy story well deserving to be told on film but the sad reality is that there are no doubt hundreds and hundreds of similar stories that didn't end up quite as well. I can't tell you what exactly makes the family depicted in this movie so special. Maybe they're stronger, and more willing to compromise, and just maybe a little lucky, too. But I was left recalling a scene from the movie THE STRAIGHT STORY, where Richard Farnsworth lays down some wisdom upon a teenage runaway: he told her how he would give each of his kids a stick and ask them to snap them, which was easy. Then he'd give them a whole bundle, which couldn't be broken. "That's family."
Do we have a lot of sport films where the underdog ends up winning and
overcoming many obstacles along the way until the end? Definitely. Does
The Fighter succeed? Very much so...
For a film like this it is very difficult to make it completely unpredictable, yet while The Fighter is in a way conventional, it is also unpredictable many times. It has great characters to boot, but also a strong cast that is willing to give it their all. This is the best ensemble cast of the year,, many amazing performances. First, I start off with Mark Wahlberg, who has been the most under the radar, but he is definitely up for this. He is a great lead and I am surprised he was as good as he was. I am also very pleasantly surprised by Amy Adams. Not to say she is a bad actress, but I was always used to her roles all being similar and now she is in a completely different role for her, and to say she succeeds is an understatement. She is excellent, and is only made strong when sharing the screen with any other actor. Melissa Leo is also great, and I think she is on par with Adams. The difference between Adams and Leo is that Leo has the more award-baity role. Now we have Christian Bale, who I do think is the best. I have seen his performances and while he has always been good, he has never truly risen above others in his films, here he does. He is excellent, and he as of now deserves that Oscar.
David Russel's direction is part of what makes this film so great, He soars scenes to unbelievable heights and I think that the screenplay in another director's hands would have came out with a merely good film. But here, we have an excellent film, perhaps better than 2008's The Wrestler, and one of the best films of the year.
"O the joy of the strong-brawn'd fighter, towering in the arena in
perfect condition, conscious of power, thirsting to meet his opponent."
Mark Wahlberg has achieved a career high with The Fighter, not so much for his acting, which is eclipsed by a supportive cast that would be hard to beat in the Oscar race, but because he fought for years to bring the story of Lowell, Mass. to the screen. He caught perfectly the blue-collar town's karma and their devotion to the fighting brothers, "Irish" Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale).
Director David O. Russell has assembled this cast around the idea that a town in the shadow of Boston can become world famous as its sons become winners in the ring. But then, Stallone did more for Philadelphia as Rocky, so what's the big deal? Like Ben Affleck's excellent thriller this year about Boston in The Town, Fighter captures place and struggle in equal dramatic measure as filmmakers take a close look at the working class's struggles over the last 30 years. While Million Dollar Baby (2004) focused on trainer and fighter and Cinderella Man (2005) gave a microscopic view of a troubled fighter and his small family, The Fighter does all of that with a vigor as exhausting as a bout itself.
The Fighter is not just about boxing because as in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), it's all about people who find in the sport a way to transcend their social prison. In The Fighter, it is more even about family, which weighs heavily on Micky's success or failure. And outside family as well, for girlfriend, bartender Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), is a formidable force in liberating Micky from the suffocating family (his five harpy sisters and domineering manager mother, Melissa Leo, fearsome in her cigarette smoke and driving vision for her sons). Unlike other boxing films, Fighter is patient with Micky's long climb to success, almost painfully long but rewarding in the reality of its prolonged struggle.
But it's also the acting that distinguishes it: Christian Bale as Dicky transforms himself again by losing weight and morphing into a manic brother who loves Micky despite Dicky's negative life of drugs and mania; Amy Adams is believable as the gritty but beautiful girl friend; and Melissa Leo plays mom like a lady Macbeth in tight Dockers.
Although there will be heavier films competing for 2010's Oscar, I can't think of another whose cast so eloquently has caught the poverty and riches of a town caught in boxing fever.
When it comes to winning awards, boxing films seem to always be
contenders; as such, the thought of watching "another boxing film" can
be off-putting. But "The Fighter" hangs in and fends off those labels,
earning every bit of its critical praise. That's because most of the
fighting in this film takes place out of the ring; "Irish" Micky Ward
(Mark Wahlberg) spars with the troublesome brother who trains him and
his mother who manages him and these superb supporting characters have
their own challengers to overcome.
David O. Russell brings a needed dose of realism to the boxing genre, downplaying the underdog nature of Micky's true story and focusing on the relationships that push him through and hold him back all throughout his journey toward the welterweight title. Much of the time, in fact, the story feels equally Micky's and his brother's. Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), as beat over our heads early in the film, went ten rounds with Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him down, becoming the pride of small working-class town Lowell, Mass. which as one might imagine, wasn't hard.
But Dickie, an off-kilter, fun-loving yet irresponsible guy (a transformative performance from Bale to say the least), spends the time he's not training Micky in crack houses. In fact, he's completely oblivious to the fact that HBO is following him around for their documentary on crack abuse, not one about his "comeback." It's clear that his behavior is keeping Micky, whose had a string of bad losses of late, down. After an embarrassing fight in which Micky was mismatched, Micky suddenly finds himself wondering whether he should keep his boxing career and family separate.
The idea of it irritates Micky's mother Alice, played by Melissa Leo, who impressively embodies every controlling mother. Alice sits in her house most days and smokes cigarettes while her seven grown daughters pathetically vie for her attention. Leo keeps Alice from being an aggravating total monster, providing a more complete picture of a mother whose blurred the line between business and family.
Amy Adams also excels in her supporting role, a bartender and college dropout, but one who like the audience sees how Micky's family has kept him back and as his girlfriend pushes him toward the right path. Interestingly, as she grows more invested in Micky's career, the script divides her from the audience, which gives her performance more weight.
Russell's characters have a harsh reality to them, much like the Boston-based characters in Ben Affleck's films "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town." In addition to looks, clothes and mannerisms, Russell chooses a more hand-held documentary feel for the film like Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" and even opts to film parts of the boxing sequences with lenses like the ones used in the late '90s to give the feel of watching a live broadcast.
The fights, though effective, remain secondary to the other "fighting." Watching Dickie spiral downward and come back up again, Alice have trouble letting go and Micky struggle to speak up for himself and recognize what he truly needs serves as the more compelling conflict. All together, they give "The Fighter" the best ensemble cast of 2010. And like all great boxing films, all these tensions blow in and out make their way symbolically into the boxing ring for that final fight. As Dickie urges on his brother in the waning rounds of the championship fight, he captures it perfectly when he says "everything that's happened, take that out there with you."
The emotional moments of "The Fighter" do lack a real knockout and many intimate moments are tempered with humor in awkward but not scene-ruining ways, but rather than be a heavyweight drama that rides the underdog story for two hours, "The Fighter" opts to be something a bit more natural by fixing on the right things: the people and the personal relationships that hurt or harm us, are all essential to our success.
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