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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10%
Worth A Look66.67%
Average: 20%
Pretty Bad: 3.33%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Fighter, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Could've been a contender."
3 stars

"The Fighter" isn't really a "boxing movie" it's more about family dysfunction but it boasts some of the best ring footage in quite a while.

Essentially, there are two masters a director of modern boxing sequences can serve. The Rocky model lunges for excitement and catharsis, a mini-dramatic arc ascending from round to round; the Raging Bull template puts you inside the battered skull of a pugilist. David O. Russell, who directed The Fighter, nods to both but really follows neither. The star and co-producer, Mark Wahlberg, has said his aim in the fight scenes was realism, and indeed the trading of punches, the guarding of body and head, play so unemphatically that the punishment dealt and received comes across as more dramatic. The fights have a documentary, real-time rhythm.

The movie paints a basically warm picture of Lowell, Massachusetts welterweight Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his older half-brother and trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Micky is trying to rise in the ranks, but he can't depend on Dicky, who had his day in the sun years ago in a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard and is now throwing his life away in a crackhouse. I don't know quite how rosy the film makes the real story, though you wouldn't know from the script that Dicky, after getting clean in jail and helping Micky stage a comeback, was pinched for crack possession six years later and again last year for domestic assault and attempted murder.

You look at Wahlberg and you know he can throw a punch but would almost rather not. You look at Christian Bale and you're not sure if he can manage a punch (he shed considerable weight to play the dissipated Dicky), but he always seems ready to deck somebody. Wahlberg underplays, as usual in his lead roles (he was livelier in The Departed), while Bale practically dances on the ceiling. The dynamic here is less De Niro/Pesci in Raging Bull than Keitel/De Niro in Mean Streets. Bale's showboat performance, all but guaranteed to draw Oscar attention, gets wearying after a while: "Sit the fuck down and be quiet," you might want to yell at him. Between Dicky, the overbearing matriarch of the family (Melissa Leo), and the seven sisters with attitudes like coyote traps, it's perhaps no wonder that Micky is so recessive and unaggressive weird traits for a boxer.

Two such disparate acting styles could, but don't here, result in a cold front/warm front thunderstorm. What it comes across as is a Kabuki-theater version of the good-brother/bad-brother trope, as old as Cain and Abel. (Part of the greatness of Raging Bull was that it centered on the bad brother.) Amy Adams turns up, flashing a tramp stamp and dropping F-bombs, as Micky's love interest and smuggles some clear-spoken sanity into this indecisive movie. Should Micky ditch his bad-news brother and strike out on his own, or stay true to his family? Fifteen minutes shy of the end credits and he and the movie are still waffling on the answer. The film becomes Amy Adams' property by default, because we share her character's baffled frustration with the whole situation.

The Fighter isn't bad, but it's disappointingly conventional coming from the mercurial talent David O. Russell, who hasn't had a film in theaters since 2004's I Heart Huckabees; his 2008 political comedy Nailed remains unfinished. I get the sense that Russell may consider Micky and Dicky's comebacks his comeback. It's his way of saying "See, I can be a good boy and deliver a low-budget critics' darling with Oscar buzz." But aside from some low-down, bottom-dog humor involving Dicky's crackhouse misadventures (he's always jumping out of windows into trash bags to avoid getting caught by his mother), The Fighter is missing Russell's particular prickly comic sensibility.

It's being positioned as this year's "The Wrestler" (no surprise that that film's director, Darren Aronofsky, is a producer here), but it lacks a star who's lived the conflict; what it has are some authentically grungy Lowell locations, a star who humbly brings a local hero to the big screen, and another star who seems to see his character as a license to overact.

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originally posted: 12/12/10 15:15:32
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User Comments

8/25/20 morris campbell good sports flick 4 stars
5/10/13 Simon chock-full of ho-hum conventions and cliche arcs, but the family drama is grippingly acted 4 stars
8/27/12 David Pollastrini Very real looking fight scenes. 4 stars
8/12/11 Eric Ivins Great Film, must see 5 stars
6/21/11 Where's the beef? Less Wahlbergy moaning, more proper boxing! 2 stars
2/06/11 mr.mike Great acting , very good movie. 4 stars
1/27/11 Barbara Leaf Bale should win all the awards and Wahlberg did his boxing homework - perfect technique. 5 stars
1/25/11 The GLC Imaginative, moving, great boxing scenes. Amazing acting. 5 stars
1/23/11 DirtyD Entertaining Movie. Bale was fantastic. 4 stars
1/21/11 Smitty Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are excellent. The movie is so-so 4 stars
12/30/10 Jeff Wilder Best boxing movie since Raging Bull. Bale and Adams especially excel. 4 stars
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  10-Dec-2010 (R)
  DVD: 15-Mar-2011

  02-Feb-2011 (15)

  27-Jan-2011 (MA)
  DVD: 15-Mar-2011

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