The Fighter

Everyone has a dream.  It could be elaborate or mundane.  It could be whimsical or serious.  It could be completely crazy or perfectly sane.  Whatever form a dream takes, we all have one and hope one day to see it fulfilled.  Of course, most of those dreams will never come true; mostly due to a lack of effort to see them brought to life or a lack of courage to even try.  There are those rare individuals who see obstacles and failures as minor bumps in the road and don’t give up on making their dreams come true for any reason.  This week’s movie, “The Fighter,” is about a man who has more than enough reason to give up his hopes and dreams but keeps throwing punches until one lands.

Boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is what’s referred to in the fight game as a stepping stone:  Micky is put up against much better fighters who want to pad their records as they make their way up the rankings to a title shot.  Micky is actually a very good fighter.  He’s trained by his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and is managed by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo).  Both Dicky and Alice are very domineering personalities who usually steamroll over Micky; but he takes it because they are family.  Dicky was also a boxer and had a title fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978 but lost by unanimous decision.  Dicky talks about returning to the ring but is addicted to crack cocaine.  He’s often hours late to train Micky at the local gym and is always in some kind of trouble.  Micky strikes up a conversation with Charlene (Amy Adams), a bartender at the neighborhood watering hole.  Charlene agrees to go out on a date with Micky on Saturday night after he gets back from a fight in Atlantic City that is being broadcast on HBO.  Micky’s scheduled opponent comes down with the flu and the replacement fighter outweighs Micky by 20 pounds.  Dicky and Alice convince Micky to go through with the fight, otherwise no one gets paid.  The replacement fighter pounds on Micky and easily wins the bout.  Returning home embarrassed, Micky doesn’t call Charlene about the date, but she turns up on his front porch, demanding to know why he didn’t call.  This begins a relationship that starts to open Micky’s eyes about his family.  Dicky, trying to keep his half-brother from signing with a big name promoter, tries various illegal methods to raise money and keep Micky under his thumb.  These efforts lead to Dicky being arrested and sent to prison.  The combination of the calming influence of Charlene and the absence of Dicky allows Micky to rededicate himself to training and taking one more shot at boxing success.

“The Fighter” is a very good movie.  It has a love for these characters that is similar to a love for family:  No matter how dumb or hurtful the actions, there’s always forgiveness and acceptance.  There’s plenty to forgive in the actions of many of these characters.  Christian Bale’s Dicky is that character that many people have in their families.  Dicky has a big heart, but he’s also stupid.  Addicted to crack cocaine, Dicky is either going at full-throttle or he’s in a surly stupor jonesing for his next hit.  Bale steals the movie from the top-billed Mark Wahlberg.  The screen seems to come alive whenever Dicky is present.  The wild yet sunken eyes of Bale bore through the audience and demand your attention.  He’s like a car wreck:  You know you shouldn’t look but you can’t turn away.  Amy Adams is also terrific as Charlene.  Adams character is the unlikely combination of beat down, plucky, sexy, vulnerable and tough as nails.  It’s a tricky mix to pull off and Adams does it very well.  The performance will surprise people who’ve only seen her in romantic comedies.  Melissa Leo is despicable as Micky and Dicky’s mom, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Leo’s Alice is willing to overlook Dicky’s addiction and forgives him for every transgression, even a fight with the police that gets Micky’s hand severely broken.  Alice is wrapped around Dicky’s finger in a particularly co-dependant way:  They each need the other to support their delusions of normalcy, no matter how much damage it causes to Micky, his career and their family.  The supporting cast, including Jack McGee as Micky’s dad George and the actresses who play Micky’s seven sisters, are all first rate.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said for everyone in the cast.  Mark Wahlberg plays Micky as a passive milquetoast who is willing to silently accept any amount of garbage heaped on him by his mother and half-brother.  Wahlberg mumbles through most of his dialog and can only be clearly heard when he finally grows a backbone in the second half of the movie.  He looks lost at times and unsure of what to do or how to do it.  It isn’t really a bad performance (certainly not “The Happening” bad), but perhaps it’s just poor direction from David O. Russell.  That seems a bit odd considering the very good work by the other members of the cast; but whatever the reason, Wahlberg’s performance just doesn’t ring true.

Another issue I have with the film is the boxing scenes.  The action doesn’t look particularly good.  It often takes on the appearance of slapping rather than punching.  Of course, staging a screen fight and making it look real is very difficult and, according to the films’ publicity, Wahlberg and the other fighters in those scenes actually took punches.  That makes how bad the fights look that much more surprising.  While they are excitingly choreographed, they just don’t look very authentic.

“The Fighter” is rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.  Aside from the boxing, there is some violence including a brief bar fight and a street fight between Dicky and police that leads to some bleeding head wounds.  We watch Dicky and other smoke crack on several occasions.  The sexual content is brief and contains no nudity.  Foul language is common throughout the film.

Based on a true story, “The Fighter” is an uplifting tale of common people faced with overwhelming obstacles, battling to fulfill their dream.  It may be a story that’s been told a thousand times and is somewhat predictable, but it still provides a rush of excitement that makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up.

“The Fighter” gets four bruised guitars out of five.

Family flicks, raucous comedy and award season contenders all are under the tree this holiday week.  Vote for the next film you’d like me to see and review.

Little Fockers—Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller are back as father and son-in-law at odds in the latest installment of dysfunctional family comedy saga.

True Grit—Jeff Bridges is an aging, drunken, one-eyed marshal who is enlisted by a 14-year-old girl to hunt down her father's murderer.

Gulliver’s Travels—Jack Black is a writer on assignment in the Bermuda Triangle who finds himself washed ashore on the hidden island of Liliput.

Black Swan—Natalie Portman is a New York City Ballet dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival.

The King’s Speech—George VI reluctantly takes the throne of England when his brother abdicates in 1936. The unprepared king turns to a radical speech therapist to help overcome his nervous stutter and the two forge a friendship.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Questions?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.