The Fighter (2010)

The Fighter is everything it claims to be and perhaps a lot more – a boxing movie, a biographical sports drama, the story of a dysfunctional family and the woes of crime, drug addiction and failed dreams as incendiary for bad decisions.  This film is both commanding and held in reserve, first and foremost a character study surrounded by exhilarating performances and notable for Christian Bale’s startling transformation into a has been boxer and crack addict.  The film is based on the true story of professional boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother Dicky (Bale) and their various self-determined trials by fire in and out of the ring.  To suggest that The Fighter is just another boxing movie would miss the quiet tragedy personified with unflinching attention by director David O. Russell.  The fact that the movie is about two troubled boxers seems like an overstatement much like relegating Goodfellas to a film about the nefarious mob.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanThe Fighter marks the third time director David O. Russell has worked with Mark Wahlberg and puts both in good company with an impressive list of producers on the project.  Darren Aronofsky, David Hoberman, and Bob & Harvey Weinstein are among a dozen others who brought the film together.  Others have noted that many of Hollywood’s top talent were attached to the project at one time or another, but this seems hardly interesting given what O. Russell has accomplished.  The Fighter was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and ultimately won for Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo).  While it would be impossible not to acknowledge that this film operates in the familiar territory of Oscar gold winning films like Rocky, Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby in the not so distant past, it manages to stand on its own with pace and purpose.  We don’t so much as arrive at the ending as maneuver there, obstacles like sibling rivalry, family politics, and drug abuse ever-present motivators for characters teetering on the precipice of changing against the threat of staying the same forever.

The Fighter is a true story about real people who seem at times to revel in everydayness so much so that we feel like we are visiting with people we know.  We know the gritty details of this world because they are not so different from our own, the verisimilitude so thick at times as to mire down but never to the point of sentimentality.  In a time when movies use green screen like a drug that never runs out or special effects to mask the reality of reality, The Fighter is oddly as comfortable in the ring as out of it where confrontations are not always resolved with gloves on.  It is simply impossible to miss the palpable pain in these characters, informed as much as defined by actors who spent years preparing for these roles.  Wahlberg spent four years training to become Micky Ward and Bale is reported to have lost 30 pounds for his part.  Melissa Leo is frighteningly driven, wide eyes and blonde hair more like a crown of thorns as she navigates and manipulates with deft precision.  Everyone is out for something, least of which is humanity.

The Fighter resonates days afterwards.  It is easy to divert criticism, to stave off feelings that crystalline character studies and snapshot dramas cannot achieve the sense of escapism so hungered for these days.  Blockbusters are evocative and effective in detachment because they transport us to far away and often-imagined places with characters that are not us but resemble, however minimally, ourselves.  Concept films are less concerned with truthful emotional expressions and believable real-world scenarios which allows for intimate films cemented in places we know because we feel them involving people more like us than not.  We end up rooting for these characters to win the race of life, to make it off the doomed planet not by means of space craft or futuristic transporters.  We connect with characters like these because like them we want to be able to face our own demons, overcome similar obstacles we can relate to, and in the end it is better to have spent time together knowing it is ok to lose sometimes because winning is the easy part.

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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16 Responses to The Fighter (2010)

  1. I walked out of this film before it was ended…The theater was full of people from older to younger and it seems that they were all from the same area of Boston in their past..They screamed and all talked at the top of their voices in the same slang dialect as the Ward’s and their neighborhood in Boston..Taking phone calls to let their friends hear the dialog on the screen and basically talking throughout the entire film…So I can not judge truly? The management gave us four free tickets for future.Said the same problem during each performance.:-(

    • rorydean says:

      Hello Jim – Yikes! Sounds like a terrible time for any movie. I’m so disappointed when that happens. We had a similar experience a few months ago and to be honest I can’t even remember what movie it was! I don’t recall that it was particularly earth moving but the crowd definitely ruined it with loud talk and constant critique, commentary, and general babble about the film we were watching. After the third, “DO YOU MIND?” they finally quieted down but it had all but ruined the experience. We know ‘when’ to go and ‘when not’ to go to the theater mostly around here. Though I must say the Kabuki theater in San Francisco is a pretty amazing place to watch movies. It is upscale and the theater is gorgeous (very similar to some of the most modern and stylish theaters in the country) – the down side is they charge what they call an “amenities fee of $1-3 dollars per ticket” but this generally discourages people from doing anything but watching the movie.

      It’s interesting that you mention the dialect. Wahlberg and Bale both talked about how the characters they were portraying spoke in this stylized Bostonian manner, frequently difficult to understand to outsiders. They purposefully toned it down for the movie as to not alienate anyone.

      Sorry you had a bad experience but when time permits I’d definitely recommend the film especially if you’re a fan of David O. Russell, Wahlberg and Bale. Bale is unbelievable as Dickie Eklund and Melissa Leo was frighteningly tough as brass tacks as the mother.

    • Rodney says:

      Similar thing happened to me during Avatar. Stupid tweenagers down the front decided to ruin the film for everyone else. Thank goodness for BluRay and an expensive home cinema.

      • rorydean says:

        We’ve been fortunate that these insurance’s are few and far between – then again, I always get to the theater early because not finding the right seat can be disastrous to my movie going experience. I always watch the late comers poking about the gloom scanning for four seats in a row and think to myself, well, what the hell did you expect coming in so late?

  2. Cheryl says:

    I find your “take” on this movie interesting, and I agree wholeheartedly with one comment you made… ” Everyone is out for something, least of which is humanity.” If this movie is fairly true to the way it really was in the Eklund household, the only person I had empathy for was Micky and perhaps the father figure. The “mother” had so much favoritism for Dicky it was sickening to me, and she didn’t try to hide it either. And, what was the role of the seven daughters other than to grab their share of whatever could be made off of Micky! After we saw the movie, we talked about it quite a bit because as you mention, it’s not a movie you forget about when you walk out of the theater. We were all in agreement that who knows how far Micky could have gone if he wouldn’t have stuck by his “mother” and Dicky all those years. But, these were actors portraying the real people, so I can’t be mad at them. BTW, Matt saw the three fights Micky had with Gotti, and he said the beatings Micky took here horrific. Now that I’ve typed all of this and have re-read it, these actors must have all done a really good job to elicit such diverse feelings from me.

    • rorydean says:

      I must say you’re right about the Eklund household – a vipers pit indeed, and as for the empathy I suppose Micky and his father were in fact the only characters salvageable from the lot. Yes, the mother was clearly obsessed with her first born or maybe just overcompensating for the way he turned out, failed dreams, empty ambition, the family jewel broken. I agree, the mother character was way over the top – which makes one wonder, what did the family think of their portrayal? I know the brothers were very much involved in the production, perhaps too much according to Wahlberg and Bale’s account, and must have contributed considerably to the script (though I read director David O. Russell took liberties as are always the case with “based on a true story” films).

      Thanks an interesting turn that Matt saw the real Micky fighting. I’m sure that would be interesting after the fact.

      I think we hope every film elicits a strong reaction and we know we’re heading in the wrong direction when we’re able to divorce ourselves from the actor inside the character.

  3. Rodney says:

    Having only seen Three Kings out of all Russell’s oevure, I feel ill-equipt to comment too much on your review of this film, Rory. As usual, some enlightening and pointed commentary you have provided: I admit, “sporting” films as a whole tend to bore me these days (I couldn’t even get past the twenty minute mark of The Wrestler), but The Fighter looks different than the rest. So many “true stories” end up with the last-second-win narrative that it tends to become obvious after the umpteenth time round the block. Sounds like The Fighter might have a more realistic non-Hollywood aesthetic than the slick, shiny productions we’ve endured in recent years. Can’t wait for the BluRay.

    On a side note, I am so glad Bale finally won an Oscar for acting. The man is one of the most focused, exceptionally method actors we have in the industry today, and – beard aside – clapped like a schoolgirl when he won his Oscar. He may have yelled at that dude on the set of Terminator Salvation, and he may be developing a reputation as a difficult person on set (from what I’ve heard) but as long as he’s producing stuff like this I can overlook it. Would it be a fair statement to compare Bale’s style of performance to that of Daniel Day Lewis, another awesome screen talent we see far too little of?

    • rorydean says:

      Well, I think you could probably make a stand that this film represents progress in Russell’s career and while not having seen the other films I wouldn’t say you’re at that much of a disadvantage. Thanks for the notes. I’ve yet to write a review of The Wrestler but chances are my review probably wouldn’t draw you back to watch it again. It would appear I liked it more than you but a lot of that probably has more to do with my affection for Mickey Rourke than the substantive quality of the film.

      The Fighter is different to a certain degree but it does have problems and without revealing the ending I’d say that the film does end with a good deal of issues put to bed, far more than I would have preferred but this doesn’t completely erode what it has going in its favor. Christian Bale is staggeringly stupefying as a crack cocaine addict – having lost 30 pounds it is almost impossible to know how he must have suffered to get to that place. So convincing is his performance as to make you uncomfortable at the depths he plums for the character. He not only deserved the Oscar but damn well better have won or else there is no merit to the awards, more so than I already feel deep deep down.

      That being said, The Fighter was on the shelf for four years, maybe longer. Wahlberg kept training the entire time because he wanted this film to see the light of day. As I started, I agree with you whole heartedly about Bale. And as for the terminator thing, yeah, well when you’re a high caliber actor (not unlike Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, and Colin Farrell to name a few) it’s going to happen. There are times when you just can’t keep it bottled up.

      And yes, indeed — Daniel Day is an immense talent. Loved There Will Be Blood. And if you haven’t seen My Left Foot, ouch. Much ouch. That’s a painful but brilliant film.

  4. Klaus says:

    While I agree that Bale’s performance was outstanding – there wasn’t much else in this film that really moved me. Arguably it’s better than most boxing movies – but I don’t think it really broke any new ground in the genre. Despite the characters’ real life experiences, I personally didn’t find their story all that engaging.

    As for the portrayal of the boxing in the movie, it was embarrassing to see yet another unrealistic attempt at depicting a sport which few film makers have ever gotten right. The only other sport which the movies seem to have as much or more trouble filming is hockey.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Klaus, good points all around. I suppose my inclination is always to character first, story, plot, and finally concept. Of particular note here must be Bale, as you reinforce, and while I see your point about the ensemble I guess what sticks out to me is the idea of competency versus outstanding, is believability against the gut level feeling that the performances are not as stylish or specific as they could be. Sure, the individual and collective life stories of these characters were not exactly the stuff of legend – what most likely stands out is the battle inside and outside the ring, the tragedy of failed dreams, the impact of drug abuse, the peculiar family dynamic, etc. Maybe there was too much going on or just not enough of what mattered.

      I’d like to hear your thoughts further on the sport. What movie, if any would you say gets the sport right? And I’m lost with hockey – aside from the silly ‘ducks’ movies I can’ think of many serious portrayals.

      Thanks as always for your thoughts->

      • Klaus says:

        Interesting question on sports at the movies. I guess i’d have to conclude that the vast majority of movies which dramatize sporting events are notably distracting, and unless they are a comedy and are intended to be unrealistic (e.g. Shaolin Soccer), they are generally pretty annoying to watch.

        While I’d argue that Raging Bull is one of the greatest sports films ever, the fighting sequences still lack reality. But in this case, it’s hard not to watch in awe – Scorsese’s beautifully orchestrated cinematography.

        Chariots of Fire (1981) is probably my favourite sports film, and while i’m certainly no expert on track and field, the events don’t appear to be too far fetched to be believable. And as an aging wanna-be runner, I have a soft spot for the film – which is probably also a reflection of my ignorance on period track events.

        Another favorite is Hoop Dreams (1994), and while not a basketball fan, the fact that it is a documentary removes the need to dramatize the events which it portrays.

      • rorydean says:

        I think you’re probably right re: sports and movies. I think the same can be said of courtroom procedurals – for the most part you simply cannot document what really happens, you’d bore the audience to tears, and the result is a dramatization of events and characters for “effect”.

        Funny note about comedies and sports movies. Where would you say The Mighty Ducks franchise falls in that assessment? I must admit Raging Bull is probably one of those films that transcends genre and just about all else – difficult to classify, even more to compare.

        I understand your analysis – in the dramatization process, reality is not so much bent as broken and all sense of physics, logic, and possible are replaced. Might the inherent problem in sports movies be compared to book adaptations? Novels are frequently adapted but there has to be a lot that is trimmed away otherwise you’d end up with a six hour movie or worse, a movie that does not contain an emotional and dramatic through line. Can the same be said about dramatizing sports? Maybe what is lost in translation simply cannot be portrayed in a realistic, convincing way?

  5. Klaus says:

    I guess the same can be said for the portrayal of most professions. As an archaeologist, there are few movies which have ever portrayed what we do in any way that remotely resembles our discipline – notwithstanding Indiana Jones 😉

    As for the Mighty Ducks franchise, i’ve never had the stomach to watch any of them. The last hockey movie I watched was the original “Slapshot” – which only works because of the level of absurdity.

    While I don’t disagree that a screenplay based on book adaptations often trims much of the story away, I’m not convinced that it’s an appropriate analogy for the portrayal of sports in movies. For the most part, sports portrayed in film consists of highlights of a particular event. In this regard, I’ve yet to see an actual highlight reel from a sporting event which looks fake. If a film can’t reproduce highlights of a sporting event realistically, they are better left on the cutting room floor.

    • rorydean says:

      I think I’m starting to see your point of view. I actually don’t know anyone who has watched the Ducks, but they continued to make money and in Hollywood that is first and foremost the barometer for success. It would seem your interests are most inline with documentaries, given your preference for realism. As far as ‘highlight reels’ go, they tend to capture the interesting points and leave the moments in-between out which can be for some both beneficial and rewarding, cutting to the chase so to speak. I for one tend to lean more towards truthful performance told within an enlivened story even when that story strays from reality but is told in a convincing, engaging way.

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