"The Fighter" Movie Review

12/26/2010 Posted by Admin

"The Fighter"

Movie Review

Directed by David O. Russell, written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, 114 minutes, rated R.

By Christopher Smith

Let's just address the elephant in the room, feed it some hay and send it on its way.

David O. Russell's terrific new movie, "The Fighter," is not another "Rocky." It's also not another "The Wrestler” or “Raging Bull.” While it employs underdog elements of each, this is its own movie, with the focus not so much placed on boxing as it is on the more caustic dynamics thriving within one seriously dysfunctional family.

Based on the true story of "Irish" Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer from Lowell, Mass., who has long lived in his brother’s shadow even though years ago Dicky (Christian Bale) traded in his gloves in favor of a crack addition, “The Fighter” is about relationships. It’s about a family who lives in the heady and hopeful past, when Dicky was in his prime and knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring, which immediately made him the “pride of Lowell,” even though he didn’t win the fight.

For this sorry, scrappy family, of which there are many--the women alone could fill a mall parking lot with their enormous hair alone--nobody is looking to broken Dicky to get them back on track. Instead, that job is left to Mickey, who was taught by his brother to fight, but like Dicky, has never won a title of his own.

In fact, as the movie begins, he's a consistent loser in the ring. And how is he to manage that when his manager is his own mother, the power-wielding, smoky Alice (a wonderful Melissa Leo), whose sky-high kitchen sink dye job isn't her only offense. Wait until she opens her mouth. Or better yet, watch how she showers Dicky with affection when its Mickey who's putting food on the table.

When into his life comes Charlene (Amy Adams), a bartender who also never realized her true potential, the elements start to shift for Mickey with her support, and also with the support of his father and other men who see in him someone who could be a great fighter in the ring. That is, of course, if they can ditch Alice and Dicky, neither of whom will go quietly.

The plot sounds straight forward, but the familial elements boiling within the movie keep it intense and complex. Also in the film's favor is whether Dicky really should go away--he's trained Mickey since he was a boy. If he can somehow pull himself together, should he be trusted to coach his brother when Mickey finally lands a title fight at film's end? Charlene won't hear of it--and neither will others. But blood is tight in this movie, and while Mickey takes a forceful stand midway through to rid much of his family from his life, the question is whether he can do the same when all of their dreams are just a punch away.

The standout performances don't come down to Wahlberg or Adams, each of whom are nevertheless excellent--they ground the movie with common sense. The brilliant work comes from Bale, who will be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and Leo, who might enjoy the same in the Supporting Actress category.

Each is so loose and sketchy, just try looking away from them when they're onscreen. They wreak of authenticity. Dicky isn't a bad guy--he's just screwed up on drugs. But Alice? Alice is one corrupt babe who will put herself first in any situation that doesn't involve her beloved Dicky. And where does that leave Mickey?

"The Fighter" could have gone where so many boxing movies have gone before--straight into the ring, where drama awaits with a right hook and a slow-motion punch to the face. Instead, most of the drama takes place outside of the ring, where lives are on the line, a family is divided and one of the year's best movies is found.

Grade: A

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes