THE FIGHTER - Boxing Drama With Emotional Punch
THE FIGHTER (boxing drama)
Cast: Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Robert Wahlberg, Dendrie Taylor, Jack McGee, Jenna Lamia, Salvatore Santone and Chanty Sok
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
Time: 116 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: When we think of boxing movies, Rocky, Raging Bull and Cinderella Man come to mind. These are invariably underdog films about how the boxers triumph over great odds. The Fighter, David O. Russell's take on welterweight champ Mickey Ward, is no different. However, what makes it special is that there is something extra to this boxing bio: a rivetting subplot about family involvement that is both a boon and a bane to Mickey's career.
In other words, Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) not only has to fight formidable opponents in the ring, but also has to contend with tricky issues involving a crack-addict half brother-cum-trainer (Christian Bale as Dicky), a domineering mother (Melissa Leo) and a bunch of concerned sisters.
The Fighter had been in the making since 2000. Martin Scorsese was supposed to direct, but he turned down and Darren Aronofsky was brought on board. Production delays resulted in Aronofsky quitting and David O. Russell came into the picture. This is Russell's first film since I Heart Huckabees, a production better known for behind-the-scenes shouting matches and gossip column scandals. It is the third teaming for Wahlberg and Russell, following Three Kings and Huckabees.
THE SKINNY: Set in a small-town of Lowell, Massachusetts in 1993, the film opens with a HBO documentary crew supposedly interviewing ex-boxer Dicky about his attempts at making a comeback. However, both Dicky and his mother Alice (Leo, pic, left) are training and managing Mickey but their efforts are amateurish at best, resulting in Mickey getting pummelled in the ring by an opponent 20 pounds heavier than him.
Mickey realises that he'll have to break free of his family ties if he wants a shot at achieving his dreams. Hope comes in the form of a relationship with local barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), who encourages him to take control of his life and helps him stand up to his overbearing family.
HITS AND MISSES: Balancing training sessions and boxing matches with scenes of family loyalty and conflicts, Russell creates a pot-boiler of a movie right from the start. It is obvious that Dicky's infamous exploits with violence and drugs are overshadowing Mickey's fledgling career, but the young man is reluctant to let go of familial ties - until the feisty Adams comes into his life.
Indeed, the off-ring tussles between Dicky and Alice versus Mickey and Charlene are as engaging as the boxing sequences, offering terrific performances from Bale, Leo and Adams (pictured left, who portrays a different personality from her previous roles). Bale is especially awesome, looking gaunt as the crack-addicted trouble-maker (my favourite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar). Leo is just as formidable as the chain-smoking mother, stealing the thunder even from Adams.
The boxing sequences are not as brutal and violent as Raging Bull - but they are realistic enough to keep us rooting for Mickey and even Dicky - thanks to Russell's inclusion of documentary-style footage with the narrative. And although we know the outcome of the climactic match, we still get a thrill from it.
THE LOWDOWN: A boxing flick with heavyweight emotional punch.