Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Fighter is a Champ

Should be cross-posted from IMDBPro (which is a subscription-based version of

Curious to see why The Fighter was nominated for 6 Golden Globes. Had great word of mouth. But wasn't it just another boxing movie? No no no.

The Fighter is a movie that works on so many levels it's as dense as a
black forest cake. Based on a true story set in Lowell, Massachusetts,
about two boxing half brothers (their mother had a lot of love to
give), Mickey Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg and Dicky Eklund, played by
Christian Bale, it opens with Bale and Wahlberg sitting on a living
room couch. Bale is a revelation; motor-mouthed, twitchy, punchy, and
doesn't seem to have a lot upstairs. Believe that at your peril.
Wahlberg sits quietly next to him. He's the kind of actor you can
actually watch thinking.

Dicky's claim to fame is that he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard
(who makes a brief cameo appearance). Now both he and Mickey are part
of a road crew when they're not in a gym. Dicky trains Mickey for
fights his mother the gorgon manager sets up for him, one of which puts
him in the hospital.

The way The Fighter surprises and confounds your expectations keeps you
on the edge of your seat, along with director David O. Russell's
cutting back and forth between parallel scenes of Dicky on the prison
phone with mother while Mickey battles a powerful Mexican opponent.
It's like cage match dancing.

The fights are not just physical. The family and girlfriend fight for
Mickey's allegiance. A new manager pits Dicky against his brother.
Which ties will be stronger: the anguish of the family or the tempting
opportunities? The low ebb between the brothers comes when Christian
Bale, desperate to compete with an outside offer to pay for training
for Mickey, pimps out his girlfriend and gets into a fight with the
cops. Mickey hears the commotion and runs to intervene, only to have
his right hand crushed by an overly zealous policeman.

An HBO movie-within-a-movie ties the characters and the action even
more tightly. Bale (and the viewer) believe the documentary is about
his knockout of Sugar Ray Leonard when it is actually about his
downfall due to crack addiction. As Bale watches the documentary in the
prison auditorium surrounded by fellow inmates, Russell cuts to
Wahlberg desperately calling his ex-wife to ask her not to let their
daughter watch it. She gleefully refuses, telling him she want her to
know what kind of man he is. In another scene the bleary eyed mother
shoos Bale's little son away so he can't watch it. Christian Bale
suddenly realizes that he is the subject as the crack addict as we hear
the filmmaker within the film say Bale will end up in either the
cemetery and prison. Cut to Bale's face behind bars.

The fights are taut and visceral. You can feel the body blows and get
into the clinches. It all leads up to the climax which reveals the true
nature of the brothers' ties

The cast, especially Bale who seems to do his own stunts jumping out of
a second story window several times, are great. Amy Adams plays
Wahlberg's love interest, a salty tongued college-educated bartender
who is one of the very few characters who is not afraid of mother. She
can give as good as she gets and doesn't take guff from anyone.

Wahlberg is terrific with intelligence, torment and restraint written
all over his face. He's the rock who's shuffled aside by the mother's
fantasies of Dicky's comeback and bears gamely under his ex-wife's
abuse and his family's manipulations. I read that he trained for three
years to get into shape for the movie and it shows.

Making a movie is a collective, lengthy enterprise, and several people worked on the story: Writer (screenplay) Paul Tamasy; Writer (Screenplay/Story)/Producer Eric Johnson; Writer (Screenplay)(Story) Keith Darrington; and writer (story) Dorothy Aufiero.

Aside from acting in the movie, Mark Wahlberg was also one of the main producers and shepherded the project for several lean years before it got into theaters.

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