"The Fighter" *** (out of ****)
Walking into "The Fighter" (2010) I admit my expectations may have been too high. Given all the critical acclaim which has been thrown at the movie (which honestly should have been my first signal something was up) I was anticipating a masterpiece. A film which I would consider one of the best of the year. Unfortunately, for me at least, "The Fighter" isn't the knockout I wanted it to be.
"The Fighter" is suppose to be one of those heartwarming, sympathetic, inspiration stories of an underdog beating all the odds. A story of perseverance. How we can all achieve great things if we put our mind to it. It just so happens to be a boxing melodrama, so there will be those who will want to compare it the "Best Picture" Oscar winner, "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) or "Rocky" (1977), also a "Best Picture" Oscar winner. But "The Fighter" isn't as emotional as "Million Dollar Baby" and didn't strike me as inspirational as "Rocky".
The problem for me is with the story's structure. All the ingredients are here quite frankly to make a memorable film. However the screenplay doesn't go about introducing us to these characters in the right way and doesn't build up enough emotion.
The story starts off with Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) as a local boxing legend. Though, now he is a crack addict. He only has his memories to get by on and repeatedly tells the story of how he beat Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring. Dicky now is the corner man for his half-brother Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg). But Dicky isn't reliable. He shows up late for training. He is always at the crack house. Mickey's mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) serves as his manager and lately hasn't been getting him the fights Mickey deserves. Mickey needs to tell his family to back off, but, with this clang, it is hard. The family motto is never trust anyone that isn't family.
In these early moments we can see neither Dicky or Alice really believes in Mickey. Dicky only thinks about himself. Whether it is doing drugs or his memories of the past. He is even under the delusion he is going to stage a comeback and believes HBO is following him around to cover his story. An HBO crew is following him but not for the reasons Dicky think. Alice on the other hand, still puts great pride in Dicky never giving Mickey enough attention or credit.
Naturally things soon change for Mickey after he meets Charlene (Amy Adams). A bartender with a lot of sass who speaks her mind. They seem to instantly hit it off. It is Charlene who tells Mickey the uncomfortable truth, he needs to leave his family behind if he wants to make it as a boxer.
The script's dialogue is actually very good. I found it very colorful and alive. The people speak in a realistic manner. It is just that the film never really has a shift in tone. The tension never really rises. Everything is fairly conventional. No major surprises with this story.
What I think would have made this film better was if we see Dicky as the great fighter he once was and then slowly see his fall, while little brother Mickey looks on. Dicky would then be his inspiration to succeed. I actually find Dicky to be the more interesting character, not Mickey. Dicky has more of a background story. He seems to have lead the more difficult life. More struggles. More to overcome.
I also thought the film's ending, a big boxing match, wasn't as powerful as it could have been. This should have been a very uplifting moment in the film. By this point in the movie the audience should have been overcome with emotion. We should be feeling every punch in that ring. But this is such a somber, monotone, it just doesn't come off. There is no real emotional reward.
If I sound like "The Fighter" isn't worth seeing, that is not my intention. The movie has good performances, I especially like Christian Bale, and as I said, the dialogue is very good.
The film was directed by David O. Russell, the man behind "I Heart Huckabees" (2004), a film which I liked more than most, and "Three Kings" (1999), a film which I disliked more than most, which also starred Mark Wahlberg. Russell does a good job getting strong performances out of his actors and gives the movie a nice look.
The film has won 6 Golden Globe nominations including "Best Picture" and "Best Director" and Christian Bale has already won the National Board of Review award for "Best Supporting Actor". Don't be surprised if Bale gets an Oscar nomination either.
"The Fighter" is worth seeing for the performances and the dialogue. The story however just isn't all it could have been. Too bad. There was a lot going on here which could have made this a truly great film.