The Cave :: The Fighter

“Holy Balboa, Batman!”

The Fighter (2010)

Rated R

Once again, from the lightless depths of the earth, it is time to delve into Hollywood’s cinematic collection and trim some fat.  This week, we examine the boxing docu-drama The Fighter from director David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees).  This film stars Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm) as he portrays the Rocky-like rise of real life pugilist Micky Ward.  But don’t panic, loyal readers, this is not your typical boxing movie.  The real charm and intrigue of this feature is driven by the interaction of the characters, not the slobber-knocking inside the ring (although, that is pretty cool too).  Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, American Psycho) delivers what could possibly be the finest performance of his career (and one for which he deservedly won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) as Dicky Eklund, brother and trainer to Micky Ward.  Fine performances by Amy Adams (Enchanted, Charlie Wilson’s War) as Micky’s fiery love interest and by Melissa Leo (Conviction, Righteous Kill) as Micky and Dicky’s fanatical mother/manager increase the excitement and help captivate the audience throughout the film’s 115 minutes.  Amy Adams also received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Fighter, but lost out on the award because Melissa Leo actually won it.  Yes, folks, there’s some top quality acting in this week’s selection…

The story begins in Lowell, Massachusetts, with Micky Ward (Wahlberg) stuck in the lower echelons of the boxing world, losing fights and serving as a stepping stone for other fighters on their way to glory in the ring.  Micky idolizes his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Bale), known as the “Pride of Lowell” for his former exploits in the squared circle, having once fought the legendary Sugar Ray Lenard and actually knocked him down!  Dicky acts as Micky’s trainer, but has long since fallen from his former grace.  He has spiraled into crack addiction and has been in and out of prison since his dramatic loss to Sugar Ray.  Dicky is excited to be the subject of an HBO special, which he believes will be documenting his triumphant comeback.  It is, however, a cold-hearted examination of the destructive nature of crack addiction, a fact of which everyone except for Dicky seems to be aware.  Micky is managed by his self-serving mother (Leo), who is devastated by the failures of Dicky and seems more interested in maintaining her control over her younger son’s life than promoting his success.  Poor decision making by his mother and the lack of dependability by his brother have kept Micky’s career near the basement of the boxing world, as he painfully struggles from fight to fight desperately trying to please his egocentric family.

Micky’s life changes forever when he meets Charlene Fleming (Adams), a local bartender and college drop-out.  The two fall in love, but Charlene’s no-nonsense nature and genuine concern for her man clash mightily with Micky’s family.  Charlene convinces Micky to abandon his family and train in Las Vegas, but his mother and brother stubbornly refuse to let their last great hope walk away from them.  Micky is torn between his aspirations, his love for Charlene, and his love, however destructive, for his family.  Throughout the film, we witness that the toughest fights of “Irish” Micky Ward’s career were not necessarily the ones in the ring.

The Fighter has many virtues as a strong film.  The movie paces very well, keeping the audience interested in the dramatic events without becoming side-tracked on the many aspects of the film that wouldn’t necessarily advance the story.  The fight sequences are punishingly realistic and well performed, without the dramatic slow-motion beatings and jock-rock anthems of the Rocky-style film spectacle.  They more accurately depict the genuine struggle and talent of the athletes who call themselves boxers, deriving their dramatic impact more from brutal pragmatism than from flamboyant extravaganzas.  The cinematography makes the surroundings, from the crack houses to the prisons to the gaudiness of Atlantic City, seem authentic and full of vitality.  But the gem of this movie is the performances.

Mark Wahlberg turns in another strong performance, proving once again that this man is more than an underwear model and former teen heartthrob.  The character is dry and reserved, however, and he sort of allows himself to be ruled by the more forceful personalities he is surrounded by.  Amy Adams expertly depicts the toughness of her character with such tenacity and strength that it is easy to understand why Micky would have fallen for her.  Melissa Leo deserves every ounce of the accolades she received for portraying Micky’s mother as a demanding and self-absorbed martyr, and she delivers such an impressive performance that the audience almost grinds their teeth in exasperation when she is on screen.  But unquestionably the best performance was by Batman…

Christian Bale was so good in this movie, I have a hard time even describing it.  I could not believe I was watching Batman, you know, with that cheesy, grainy, half-whispery voice, perform such a dramatic role so convincingly.  Bale’s performance, with all the quirks and similes, is so fantastic that you simply must see it to believe it.  Trust me, loyal readers, I am not easily impressed (some might even say I’m “jaded”) when it comes to the myriad movie performances I’ve witnessed in these cold, damp caverns, so believe me when I say there is no finer example of an Oscar-Winning Best Supporting Actor award than Bale’s portrayal of Dicky Eklund in The Fighter.

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The bottom line is this:  The Fighter is a passionate tale of redemption and perseverance that is able to avoid being preachy or cliché.  This film offers action, drama, suspense, and a level of thespian quality that is rarely seen so expertly articulated.  This may not be the finest movie you will ever see, but because it captures such a wide variety of interests, there must be very few who can say they totally disliked this movie after watching it.  It offers a little bit for everyone, and it is absolutely worth 115 minutes of your time to view.

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