The Fighter

The Fighter is anything but a movie about boxing. While the sport is important to the film and leads the plot it’s more of a metaphor for family life and the struggles that Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) has to overcome. The boxing sequences are exhilarating and incredible, but what David O. Russell and his cast are really interested in is the story of the boxer before the fight. It’s too often that movies focus on making the action as gritty and realistic as possible that they forget that as long as we care about the characters every punch that lands on one of them hurts.

The movie has been criticized as being “predictable.” It is. But how can that be a criticism when the movie is done so well? Most movies are predictable, and its only a problem when we’re bored by where the film’s going. The Fighter never  does. Ward may win the championship match at the end, but that’s overshadowed by the film’s real conflict: not hurting anyone he loves. His family, his trainers, and his girlfriend are all complex characters that have difficulties getting along. His girlfriend (Amy Adams), doesn’t think that his family has his best interests at heart and steers Ward away from them to become a better fighter with a dedicated training team. While this may be true, it hurts Ward to hurt his family, and he spends the  entire movie trying to reconcile his feelings for his family, managing a successful career, and caring for the woman he loves. Sure, the outcome may be predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to watch.

The acting is spectacular by everyone in the central cast, but the two actors that really deserve mentioning are Christian Bale as the wiry, energetic Dicky Ecklund, and Melissa Leo as the domineering and bossy matriarch of the family. Bale is without a doubt one of the best actors of our generation, and his performance in this movie guarantees that the Best Supporting Actor Oscar will be (and should be) his this year. Ecklund is a crack-addicted former boxer who’s title as the “Pride of Lowell” came from knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard in a bout that took place more than a decade ago. He’s the favourite child of his mother, Alice Ward (Leo), who lavishly praises him while willfully ignoring that he’s become a has-been and needs help. Bale completely disappears in a frenzied performance that it’s impossible to believe that this is the same actor who plays the somber and collected Batman.

Melissa Leo’s performance is another awards-worthy one. Sporting an awful bleached haircut and perpetually smoking a cigarette in nearly every scene, Leo’s Alice is a character who can’t relinquish control over her children, even if it may be in their best interests to do so. Leo portrays a character who is equally unlikeable and sympathetic when she realizes that her boys are slipping away from her. She lives in a house (more aptly called a cocoon) with her several daughters who all seem to be mirrors of her personality and opinions. There’s a vulnerability to the character that Leo finds and brings out; in several scenes the hardened visage Alice uses to protect herself is on the verge of crumbling and you can’t help but feel for her, especially in a scene when she picks Dickie up from a crack house.

The Fighter is one of the best pictures of the year, and if it won that coveted award, I would be ecstatic. One more scene from the film needs to be talked about: the first date that Micky and his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) go on. Micky, embarrassed about having a bruised and stitched-up face, takes Charlene to an out-of-town movie theater where no one will see his face. The film that plays is a subtitled art-house flick that Micky falls asleep during and Charlene hates for not even having “any good sex scenes.” That movie was probably unpredictable but it was also totally unsatisfying. The Fighter manages to be perform cinematic alchemy: being entertaining while at the same time having something important to say. And it does so without any good sex scenes.

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