By: Oberst von Berauscht (A Toast) -
The films of David O. Russell have often found critical acclaim for their stylized cinematography, editing, and quirky characters.He is perhaps equally known for his combative style of film-making (physical altercations with his cast and crew having been documented on multiple occasions). This approach seems to benefit The Fighter, as much of the film’s suspense springs from internal character tensions that burn just under the surface.Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward are professional boxers from the blue collar Boston suburb of Lowell, Massachusetts (whose rich history produced John Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock).
And more recently; Red Sox Fans
Dicky, Micky’s trainer and half brother was a once promising Welterweight boxer, famous for going the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard, and now addicted to crack with his career a memory.It is the early 90’s and Micky’s career is hydroplaning.He is anxious for a title shot, but a combination of Dicky’s increasing unpredictability and the ever tightening grip of his domineering mother/manager seem to be derailing him.Micky is forced to make a potentially alienating decision, one that threatens to destroy his family just as it betters his career.
David O. Russell and team have delivered a film that cannot be easily summarized in a simple synopsis.While on paper you’re looking at a rather conventional premise, one that has been covered in one way or another in numerous films about boxing.If what you’re expecting are longwinded speeches about “doing the right thing”, or rousing training montages set to music by Survivor, you should be pleased to know that this isn’t that type of movie.On paper a drama, the film feels much more like a dark comedy, each character more eccentric than the next.
Christian Bale is particularly fascinating as Dicky.He portrays a fun-loving, freewheeling personality who loves his family above all others, but lacks self control and pushes himself off the deep end at every opportunity.Dicky finally comes to realization in the most public forum possible and works to redeem himself.Christian Bale is well known for delving deep into the souls of his characters, often immersing himself in the same environments.Word is that he disappeared for lengthy periods of time before and during shooting, and judging by how convincingly he plays a crack addict, here’s hoping he didn’t go too far.The performance is nuanced, meaty, and fully realized, easily making it my pick for best actor of 2010. This may be his most manic and terrifying character since Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.
As Micky, Mark Wahlberg is Dicky’s straight man.In Micky’s own words; Dicky pushes his half-brother harder than anyone else who has trained him.Dicky’s training is essential for Micky to perfect his technique, but Micky is forced to constantly rein his brother in to take him back to the reality he frequently leaves behind.It is easy to overlook Wahlberg’s performance, since Bale’s is so accomplished.
However, Mark Wahlberg is an actor who has needed a role like this to regain the respect he may have lost, taking some weaker roles in the last few years.Where Bale shows bravado, Wahlberg shows restraint, expressing the inner pain of a man both physically and metaphysically “on the ropes”.He feels backed into a corner because his mother is such a charismatic figure, as well as his brother, who for all his flaws is a loveable guy.The conflict is expressed most strongly through his body language in the first act of the film and as his confidence grows over the second and third act the audience finds themselves in constant suspense, wondering how each scene will play out.
I also see award recognition for Melissa Leo as Alice Eklund, Dicky and Micky’s acidic, manipulative mother, who never takes a hint.She may be the most despicable character I have seen in some time.Films have produced many horrible mothers, but none are as viral, obnoxious, or as psychologically hurtful as Alice (not to mention she commands an army of rat-bag daughters whose only weapon is to judge the living shit out of you).
Aside from performances, the film is given a unique, documentary-style feel that works perfectly for the working class environment of Lowell.I hesitate to say that the camera breaks the fourth wall; it doesn’t do that so much as capture the visceral relationships of the characters, blemishes and all.When the time comes for a fight the camera shifts to pay-per-view mode, which adds a feeling of realism, just like watching the fight on a home television set.While there isn’t much in the way of a film score, the classic rock soundtrack perfectly sets the mood for every scene.
Watch it.This film is proof that even in the most overused genre, an original approach can be found to make it something new.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: When any character is drinking
Take a Drink: For every fight (in and out of the ring)