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#99. The Fighter - Review

The Fighter film posterOf all the sports movies I love, boxing films are my favorite. They strip away all of the nonsense associated with team sports like baseball and football. With a boxing flick, it forgoes common tropes and focuses on the man, and how he succeeds or fails in and out of the ring. The Rocky franchise is the most famous, and Ron Howards Cinderella Man is a personal favorite, but David O’ Russell’s newest film The Fighter is the best.

Marc Wahlberg plays “Irish” Mickey Ward, a struggling boxer who unfortunately is often hidden by the crack-addled shadow of his older brother Dickey Ecklund Jr. (Christian Bale). Once referred to as the “Pride of Lowell” (Massachusetts), Dickey was an upcoming boxer himself whose claim to fame was knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard. Regrettably, Dickey’s potential in the ring was stolen by an addiction to crack, an addiction that he hasn’t kicked some 20 years later when The Fighter takes place.

Throughout the film Mickey has to contend with his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) who is also his manager, his brother that is also his trainer, and professional boxers who only see him as a stepping-stone to reach the top. His family shows him little respect, and has little expectations for Mickey’s success. Instead Alice and Dickey have deluded themselves into believing that Dickey is ripe for a comeback. Matters only worsen when HBO asks Dickey to star in a documentary about his life, which Dickey believes is to chronicle his comeback into the ring. Throughout it all, Mickey sits quietly in the back, too timid to speak up and too loyal to leave his family behind and try to make it big on his own.Christian Bale in The Fighter

As a fan of all of David O’Russell’s films I was excited to watch The Fighter. I was curious to see a simple boxing movie from the guy that directed the superb Three Kings and the perfectly playful/existential/philosophical I Heart Huckabees. While it is unlike anything the director has made, you really can’t say any of his films are similar to each other. Like many of O’Russell’s films, The Fighter has an ability to find humor in areas that you would not suspect, and yet the humor never feels forced or too dark. It is natural, just like every other aspect of this movie. It takes place in a reality rarely visited by O’Russell, proving the director is not only capable, but also far more versatile than many of his more respected peers.

Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are receiving most of the praise out of the cast, including the two acting Oscar nominations, and rightly so. While Wahlberg gives his best performance since Boogie Nights, Bale unsurprisingly gives a transformative interpretation of Dickey Ecklund. His dedication is obvious, but his weight-loss should not overshadow his skill. Bale is absolutely mesmerizing as the failing boxer, brother, father, and son. The film is as much about him as his brother, and that is in thanks to Bale’s abilities.

Mark Whalberg in The Fighter

For fans of sports films and melodrama alike, The Fighter choreographs the sparring between family as well as it does the fisticuffs inside the ring. The arguments and manipulations are perfectly matched by the intense battle scenes between Wahlberg and his multiple opponents. The actor’s training is evident; each match is exciting and believable. Every punch carries a weight that is both physical and emotional, and by the last match my body flinched with each swing and I was left in tears. Although it went on for too long, The Fighter was a fantastic experience. It is perhaps the most traditional of the films nominated for best picture and for that I commend it, because while it covers many of the same beats we have all seen before, it covers them perfectly and reminds me why I love going to the movies to watch a sports film; to be inspired and entertained, and The Fighter succeeds in spades.

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