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The Fighter

The Fighter

By Ben Nicholson • February 23rd, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 2/5
Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment

Release date June 20th, 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 116 minutes

Director: David O. Russell
Writers: Scott Silver, Paul Tamsay, Eric Johnson

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams

My previous experience of David O. Russell’s films has been a relatively average one.

I enjoyed the much maligned I Heart Huckabees (2004) to a degree (and very much liked a couple of the performances) and although I saw Three Kings (1999) some time ago and my memory of it is hazy, I don’t remember having any specific issues with it – though I really only recall one scene in particular.

My experience of boxing movies is only marginally better; I adore Raging Bull (1980) and Rocky (1976) (though they go downhill after the first one for me) but have otherwise never had any particular love for the genre. My opinion of David O. Russell’s boxing film is, shockingly, that it wasn’t great. Not awful, but not good.

The plot is essentially that Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is living in the shadow of his larger than life failed-boxer-drug-addict-brother Dicky (Christian Bale). With his brother training him and his mother (Melissa Leo) managing him he is wasting what little time he has left in the sport, being used as a stepping stone for other boxers.

The Fighter

After a particularly severe beating Micky begins to question whether his family are the right people to have around him if he wants to do something with his waning career. Cue some serious family tensions and Micky turning his back on his mother and now criminal brother and runs into the arms of new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams).

Now, I don’t want to reveal any spoilers so I will not give any more of the plot but by about this point in the movie – or perhaps some time earlier – I already knew how the story was going to end and I can imagine a number of readers reading the above and seeing how the story plays out. Filled with numerous clichés as the film is, it is hard not to know how it will end. This is fine and can work to a filmmakers advantage but, the story itself has to be compelling enough to keep people interested and unfortunately, that is the problem with The Fighter.

At the time of release I remember hearing Mark Kermode defend the pedestrian plot by saying that it’s based on a true story which is entirely accurate. That is not really so much of a defence though – if the story is not interesting and engaging then don’t make it into a movie or ignore those who criticise inaccuracies and embrace the fact that it’s a fictionalised account and tweak the story. The plotting in this film is all competent enough but it feels long and terribly boring; I never really cared how much the victories were worth or the defeats really hurt.

The performances in the film are mostly very good. It is perhaps to be expected that the quieter more reserved character in the film, Micky himself, would seem a little understated when compared to the much lauded and larger-than-life displays from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Bale is on great form as Dicky and is responsible not only for the real heart of the film (his reaction in the locker room towards the end was the only time I actually felt for any of the characters) but for the nicest comedic moments (a couple of leaps into dumpsters). It’s made all the more impressive when you see the real Dicky when the credits are rolling and wonder if that’s not just Bale in make-up.

The Fighter

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams duke it out well for Micky’s affection and both give heart to characters that could and probably should be mostly unlikeable. Alas, at the centre of all this though is Wahlberg. Although I don’t consider him a heavy-weight actor, I do have a soft spot for Marky Mark and often enjoy films he’s in and he has really surprised me with a couple of scene-stealing performances in recent years (the aforementioned I Heart Huckabees and The Departed) (2006).

However he is very much in his straight Mark Wahlberg mode in this film and whilst his performance is by no means bad, it is so bland. I never really got the impression that there was much going on in his head even when there was supposed to be.

The direction and cinematography are by no means bad but perhaps feel a little run-of-the-mill and while the boxing scenes themselves are okay, after the second fight I didn’t particularly feel I needed to see anymore. I think that ultimately, if you like boxing movies and you like Christian Bale then you’ll probably find this okay. If you’re looking for a film with a dynamic central performance and enthralling plot then you might want to look elsewhere – maybe towards Raging Bull.

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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