I’m beginning to realize how great 2010 was for acting. Perhaps I was distracted by the alarming amount of mediocrity coming from Hollywood, but the last few movies I watched to close the year had some dynamite ensemble performances, including The Kids Are All Right and The King’s Speech. I think I’m willing to put The Fighter side-by-side with those films.
However, The Fighter feels like a film that relies on its actors, while those other films produced good acting based on their own merits. This is because, first and foremost, the central character isn’t nearly as interesting as his situation or his counterparts; a fatal flaw that few movies can recover from.
So, the situation: Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) lives in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he and his brother are the pride of the town. Dicky (Christian Bale) once knocked down “Sugar” Ray Leonard and now Micky’s personal trainer. The film follows Micky’s fall and rise to stardom, with many bumps along the way.
He becomes torn between his family and his future. His family, including his mother/manager Alice (Melissa Leo), has been behind him from the start, arranging fights and shaping his form. However, after several losses in questionable fights, Micky begins to think of new possibilities. He acts on these urges thanks to the encouragement of his newly-found girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams). This creates a split in the family, especially after Dicky is arrested for a 27th time and his mother discovers his drug-addiction through an HBO movie.
I wouldn’t say Micky’s story is unfit for a movie, but I don’t think the movie should put so much focus on his career. The more interesting angle involves the family’s struggles to remain a single unit and face its own glaring problems head on. The film turns into a Rocky of sorts, with villains, troubled romance and exercising montages to boot. The romance feels forcefully inserted, as there is not much background to Charlene and Micky’s relationship, minus some flirting and a first date. His final fight for the championship against Louis Veader can be both uplifting and annoying. It feels like a typical boxing film fight, where Veader is made out to be a complete heel with no sportsmanlike conduct.
But the final fight also brings out the finest aspect of the film. Micky wins because he is motivated by his loved ones. After training for months without Dicky, he finally finds himself looking to brother in the corner for inspiration. Reminding him of his hometown and who depends on him, Dicky shows Micky that the family isn’t in the business to make money, but because they want to see Micky succeed. Along with the passion displayed for his family, Micky’s sheer tenacity to fight back after nearly being down-and-out is inspirational in itself. The creative cinematography during the bouts only adds to the emotion.
As aforementioned, the acting is top-notch. Christian Bale is the obvious stand-out and practically guaranteed gold in February. Bale is one of those actors, like Marlon Brando or Daniel Day-Lewis, who immerses himself into his roles. He is powerful with his statements for sure, but the tiny quirks such as the mouth-twitching and occasional stuttering add a certain flavor to the character that resonates with viewers. Melissa Leo is perfect as usual. She’s getting pretty good at playing the white trash stubborn mom after Frozen River and now this. Amy Adams also raised a lot of eyebrows for acting outside the box. After playing dainty (Enchanted) and vulnerable characters (Doubt), Adams gives a much more rounded performance with Charlene. She’s stiff-necked and has a sharp mouth, but doesn’t ever come off as a complete bitch. There’s sympathy in her eyes behind the tough exterior, which portrays a longing she holds for Micky to succeed.
You get what you pay for with The Fighter. It’s uplifting and sports several engrossing characters. If the characters were a little more detailed and the film wasn’t so focused on being a “boxing film,” it could have been so much more. But I’m not complaining, as The Fighter could be on its way to winning one, or maybe two Oscars for supporting acting.
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