I do love Oscar season, but what a year 2011 is turning out to be. Black Swan, followed by this incredible film, and True Grit just around the corner. Honestly, could it get any better? The Fighter is being talked as the best boxing film since Rocky. I love Rocky, and the sequels, but Rocky will always be the best and most honest out of the bunch. The Fighter, like Rocky, is more interested in the relationships of the characters than full on boxing all the way through, and in some ways I found The Fighter to be better than Rocky, but do I think it’s better than Raging Bull? A second viewing is needed I think. The Fighter is a powerful, emotional punch to the guts that is filled with some quite literally stunning performances, incredibly moving scenes involving family and when the boxing does come, it’s superbly staged.
The film is based on boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, who turned professional in the early 80’s, the film tells his story as he attempts to break out of his elder brother Dicky’s shadow and do what his brother could not, become world champion. Mark Whalberg once again proves his acting credentials as Micky, he has been losing a few fights due to poor choices of late, and is regarded as a bit of a joke in his home town of Boston. Now, please be warned, Boston accents are very strong from everyone in this film, so be aware some of the dialogue may be a little tricky to keep up with. Micky is up for one last shot, before planning to give it all up and continue his day job as a street sweeper. His older brother, on the other hand, is regarded as a legend, the man who may, or may not, have put down Sugar Ray Leonard. Living off past glories, Dicky walks around his home-town full of himself, full of confidence and people wanting to talk to him, but also full of crack. Dicky’s life spiralled out of control, he moved on to become a trainer, but crack addiction meant he was unreliable. A TV crew is now following Dicky around, claiming to be making a film about his comeback to boxing, little known to Dicky that they are actually making a film about crack addiction and fallen idols. For the first twenty odd minutes we feel like we’re the TV crew, following Dicky and Micky around, handheld camera and you actually feel like you’re becoming a part of their daily lives. Later in the film the TV show is broadcast for all to see, including Micky’s kid, Dicky’s kid, and the whole family including their Mother, seven sisters and stepdad. It is one of the most powerful scenes I have witnessed in years, and I would suggest having some tissues ready, or a strong drink.
Melissa Leo plays Alice, the Mother and also both Micky and Dicky’s manager. She has been organising the fights, and recently has been picking some tough opponents causing Micky to lose. The plan is to fight someone easy to get his confidence back, this goes wrong however, as the opponent pulls out and Micky ends up fighting someone bigger than him, and he get pummelled. He is now ready to give up all together, but a chat with a Vegas boxing promoter has got him thinking. Does he decide to leave his loving, almost obsessive family behind, or stay with bad choices and a training brother who rarely turns up? Micky has recently started dating gorgeous barmaid Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), and spending less time with his family, wallowing in self pity and actually having someone who cares deeply about him is causing a family rift. Once Dicky gets himself arrested in a shocking turn of events, Micky makes up his mind and this leads to some of the most honest but heartbreaking family feuding you will see all year. It’s superb stuff, but incredibly sad to see some of the bullying and threats, and the fact this is all true makes it even sadder. The Dad, George, believes in Micky, and the poor guy is stuck in the middle which makes for some upsetting scenes but also some light comic relief. Director David O Russell gets the balance of drama and light entertainment perfectly here and masterfully tells a story so incredibly engaging you will not notice that two hours have passed. So brilliant are the performances here, from EVERYONE, you will not want this film to finish. I didn’t, I could have easily had this film carry on for another hour!
Of all the actors here, it’s Christian Bale, yet again, who commands the screen and delivers a performance that should see him win Best Actor, or Supporting Actor at this year’s Oscars. He has sucked up his role, somehow creating a sick looking complexion, he’s lost weight, his eyes are glazed, cold and staring, he waves his arms around uncontrollably, and he constantly chews on what can only be his lip. It’s a staggering performance, and at the end of the film, the real Dicky is talking in a bar on camera, and it’s here that you suddenly realise the genius of Bale’s performance. Strangely enough, for all the wrong he does in this film, he still has a heart and he still wants what’s best for his brother, and you cannot help but like him. You route for his corner every time. In a passionate plea to Charlene about giving his brother what he wants, I actually found myself shouting at Charlene to stop having a go at him. But Charlene is a strong presence in this film, and it’s her who pushes Micky to go further, much to the annoyance of his Mum. Amy Adams, like Bale, performs exceptionally and gets the supportive girlfriend role very honestly and powerfully. And Whalberg as Micky is incredible, a role apparently he demanded to play and rightly so. To share the screen with a legend like Bale and still look good takes some doing, but Whalberg pulls it off, and in yet another emotional moment, he claims that “he wants his family, his trainer and his girlfriend to be at his side, is that too much to ask?” get those tissues and drinks ready again!
So, I have made the point that emotions run high in this film, it’s a drama with some boxing in, but what about the actual boxing itself? It’s brilliantly played out, with an early scene showing Dicky reliving past glories, high on crack in his front room acting out his fight with Sugar Ray, all the while we keep jumping to scenes of what look like the actual fight. The acted out boxing is very well done, believable and not over the top like some boxing films are. To be fair, based on real events, you’d have to get it right and O Russell does indeed get it right. Whalberg looks like a boxer, acts like a boxer and boxes like a boxer and in the few fights that do take place, I found myself on the edge of my seat as if I was watching The Big Fight on Saturday Night! Great stuff! So, The Fighter has pretty much everything. It’s more a heavy drama than an all out slug-fest but this is serious stuff for mature fans. If ever you’ve taken the slightest interest on boxing, and routing for the underdog then this is for you, if ever you’ve enjoyed a good, honest, heavy and emotionally charged drama, then this is for you, and if you expect your films to be perfect in every way, then this is most definitely for you!