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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Fighter (2010) - Drama

The Fighter (2010) - Only the third of the Oscar nominated films this blog has reviewed this year (Inception and True Grit are the others). It is a worthy entry in what seems to be a weak year for film awareds season. Since the big change a couple years ago where ten pictures get nominated instead of five, it is almost impossible to see them all. So being picky about which one gets reviewed is half the battle. Whose idea was it anyway to dilute the pool so much? How can we be expected to dish out $11 or more a pop to see all these entries (Not counting popcorn $$ ).
The fighter is the story of brothers, boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) a journeyman fighter, struggling against family and economic circumstances in Lowell MA to rise to champion. Its Rocky motif except based on a true story. So naturally there are a lot of structural similarities. Rocky focused on the down and out fighter developing in the story that everyone saw him as a bum. In fact he fought just for the money, early in the movie we see him as out of shape and going through the motions. In The Fighter Mickey is shown early as a "stepping stone" fighter, on a three fight losing streak and the first fight we see him in he takes on a guy 20 pound heavier for the money. We get to see him also not fully in shape and trained up. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) has a love interest in the shy Adrien(Talia Shire), we get to experience their early relationship developing and the arc where she is there at the end of his fight with Apollo Creed. Mickey meets Charlene (Amy Adams) a strong but flawed bartender and we get to see their relationship develop from dating until she is there with him when he wins the title. In Rocky the younger of the two corner men has a drug problem, Paulie (Burt Young) an alcoholic has a story arc where he has to fight his addictions to be able to train Rocky. He is family, the brother of Adrien so that dynamic is there to push his inclusion. Dicky Ekland (Christian Bale) Mickey's brother, former fighter and younger of the two corner men is fighting a crack addiction and has to beat it before he is part of the group for Mickey. Both movies take the fighter to a low place, early in Rocky he is nobody without a chance at anything. In the fighter after that fourth straight loss something has to change. Then the change comes, Dicky heads to prison and Mickey gets some much needed time to change the direction of his profession life recommitting to boxing. Rocky gets his title chance and recommits to the training that will give him a chance to be something other than a bum.
The movies are not the same though, although it is hard to make a boxing movie without similarities to the classic Rocky, it is not impossible as this film shows.
The Fighter creates a dual storyline, one of a fighter striving to make it in a tough profession, and second a man struggling with his place in his family and with the expectations that family can put on you. Dicky Ekland is a crack addicted former fighter, the pride of Lowell Massachusetts who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard. He has always trained his brother and is intricate to the development of the fighter. When we join the story we get to see that a camera crew is following Dicky around, for what Dicky says is an HBO film on his comeback. It strikes the viewer as odd because we know Mickey is in his early thirties so a comeback by an older brother with ten years on him seems not really possible. The contrast between the two men are very nicely managed, Mickey the quiet younger brother who looks up to his brother and is cognizant of the help he has gotten from him. Dicky who is so obviously spiraling out of control getting high and being irresponsible still is the pride of Lowell in his mothers eyes. Added to this was the incredible family dynamic, Mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) an overbearing matriarch who managed the fighting careers of both Dicky and now Mickey a guilt throwing poison pill for the family. Her personality is so strong that the six adult daughters and the two sons orbit her as she talks about family and dictates what behavior is allowed or not tolerated. So set in her ways that the potential break between her and Mickey is a live wire from the beginning of the film. The fact that this group of adults are so codependent is a master stroke by the writing Team Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington, it creates a profound need for change that is also the hardest to do, that is to break from family. The family in this case is the strongest thing in Mickey's life and so the break is all the more profound. Now the story could have been lazy here leaving that turn as a black and white need to change but instead like in family relationships. The break takes place but some reconciliation also needed to take place as it did in the movie. As much as Mickey needed the break from the structure of the family in he needed new management to train and fight, he also needed his family to still be in his corner. When Dicky comes out of prison and surprisingly makes amends with Charlene, for the first time putting his brother first it is an important turning point.
I also appreciated the complete story arc for the relationship between Charlene and Mickey. They do not just meet fall in love and she helps him break from his family. It is a more complex and complete relationship with problem and challenges between them like in real life. It is a nicely drawn coupling of distinct separate personalities and did not feel like a devise.
You can get on Christian Bale for appearing to be a bit of a prick and full of himself, at least from some of the stuff that has come from our hyper entertainment media, but he really does pull of the role of Dicky. He needed to be the loudmouth crack head and pulls it off exceptionally well. Since I have yet to see the other films with nominees for Best Supporting actor I can not compare his performance but certainly the nomination seems fair. The Amy Adams character though as Best Supporting Actress, I don't know certainly she was a strong character who had to be forceful enough to hold her own against the dynamic of the films family powerhouse. I think since Melissa Leo is also nominated in the category she is who I would go with. She was a powerhouse as Alice Ward and commanded every scene she was in.
Director David O.Russell has create a fine film here with great interplay between characters. A film that is a hero journey for a fighter and now local hero himself. Actors, writers and directors get credit when a film is this good and I understand the acclaim this film is receiving. I think it will be interesting to see if The Fighter gets the Original Screenplay Oscar, it is a really well done film.
Rating (7.9) 5.0 and up are recommended.

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