Posted on 12/18/10 09:01 AM
THE FIGHTER was named this week by Sports Illustrated as one of the top boxing films of all time and one of the best sports films of the decade. No big surprise after watching it, this is the type of film that earns awards. Already having many of the actors being named in "best" categories-this is type of film that a guy like me really anticipates. And this film doesn't disappoint.
A biopic of the real life story of "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) the movie tells the story of a welterweight boxer living in the shadow of his half-brother Dickie Eklund, who is a former boxer himself. Past his prime, Dickie (Christian Bale) now trains his younger brother, teaching him all he knows about the sport. Dickie is battling his own demons however, fallen out of the spotlight and now addicted to crack cocaine. Micky is being badly managed by their mother Alice, who is looking to cash in and garner attention for herself off of the fame of her sons. Melissa Leo plays this selfish mom and brings in a very strong performance, already garnering Oscar attention. A former Oscar nominee for the underrated FROZEN RIVER, her depiction of a greedy, misdirected mother from the wrong side of the tracks offers some weight to this film. Amy Adams plays Charlene, Micky's girlfriend who is trying to bring some clarity to the life of this misguided fighter. All of the film is set and shot in the Boston suburb of Lowell, Massachusetts. Like other films set in this locale, the film is peppered with strong profanity throughout as these characters all scrap and battle with each other. The project took years to bring into production by Mark Wahlberg himself and has been called a "real life" Rocky film for its comeback boxing story. Wahlberg cast several non-actors for the film, including the real trainer of Micky Ward, Mickey O'Keefe.
Directed by David O. Russell, the movie offers a strong sense of reality. Several of the fight sequences were shot using Beta tape, so they appear as if they coming straight from the archive of HBO Sports or ESPN Classic. As a boxing fan I actually have seen some of Ward's fights, as well as his brother Dickie's famed battle with Sugar Ray Leonard. The film elects not to go for stylized over-the-top ring style, but instead the boxing sequences are shot very realistically, giving the movie a more genuine nostalgia. With all this in play, the movie is much more true to life than most others that have come before it. Like many other great boxing films, however, (RAGING BULL, ROCKY) the film is more about what happens outside the ring. It is a story of the power of addiction. It is a story of family struggle. It is a story of second chances-inside and outside the sport of boxing. Christian Bale brings in a strong performance of both love for his brother and the power of addiction. I firmly believe that Bale is this generation's DeNiro-with his method acting style. Wahlberg's Ward struggles underneath the pressure of family and trying to outshine his brother's legacy, and though Adams, Bale, and Leo have all been attached to award nominations for the film already, I found Wahlberg equally effective as the quieter sibling trying to make his own path. The film is funnier than I expected too, but I suppose real life works that way as well. Already appearing on many Top 10 lists of the year, this film has a great chance of making mine as well. Strongly recommended.