Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Fighter

Title: The Fighter

Is This The Movie Christian Bale Lost All That Weight For? Well, this or The Machinist.

How Come When Bale Loses A Bunch Of Weight For A Movie, He's Taking His Craft Seriously, But When Mila Kunis Or Natalie Portman Do It, They're Setting A Dangerous Example For Young People? question.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Dropkick Murphys albums out of five.

Tagline: "Based on a true story."

Better Tagline: "Christian Bale wins an Oscar in 2011."

Brief Plot Synposis: "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a struggling pugilist looking at a career decline while forced to deal with his crack-addled brother Dicky (Bale), a local boxing hero.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Inner city brothers Dicky Ecklund and Micky Ward are both fighters, but Dicky smoked away his shot at greatness, while Micky -- after letting his mother manage his career for most of his life -- finds himself on the wrong side of 30 with one last chance at a title.

How "True" Is This "True Story?" Ward was on set to observe Wahlberg's portrayal, and he and Eklund moved in with the actor for a while. All fight scenes were reproduced using HBO Films' original footage, and the movie itself was shot in scenic Lowell, MA, from whence the brothers hail.

"Critical" Analysis: It's hard to make a compelling boxing movie these days. The sweet science has been done to death, and the truly iconic fighting films (Raging Bull, Rocky, Fat City) aren't just great movies about boxing, they're great movies period. And after a while, the whole "underdog redemption" thing gets a little tired.

In the case of The Fighter, it isn't just the true elements of the story (Ward's disadvantaged upbringing, his unlikely path to the championship) that make it compelling, it's the overall quality of performances. I know Paramount is pushing Bale for Best Supporting Actor (probably so he won't have to contend with Colin Firth in The King's Speech), but this is as much Dicky's story as it is his brother's, and Bale is, for lack of a better word, phenomenal. It's the kind of performance that jump-starts careers, or would, if one of Bale's last movies hadn't grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Bale's Dicky is sensitive, infuriating, and wholly sympathetic.

I should probably rewrite that sentence.

It'd be one thing if Bale was the only one worth speaking of, but the movie is crammed with great roles. Melissa Leo continues her string of impressive performances dating back to Homicide and Frozen River, while Amy Adams -- whom I've never been all that crazy about -- really stands out as Charlene, Micky's profane girlfriend.

"Profane" hardly singles her out, though. I don't think it's possible to set a movie in South Boston that wouldn't be rated R for constant and gratuitious dropping of f-bombs. Yes, even one of those Look Who's Talking flicks.

That just leaves Wahlberg. And unfortunately, he's nowhere near up to the caliber of his co-stars. The guy shows some range beyond his usual assortment of creased forehead looks of incredulity, but not much. Luckily for him, he's rescued by the supporting cast. And the boxing scenes, which are fairly well shot.

I did a double take when I saw former Wahlberg collaborator David O. Russell listed as director, for The Fighter shows none of the visual freneticism of Three Kings, nor any of the forced weirdness of I Heart Huckabees. Russell plays it fairly straight, to the film's advantage. All in all, it's a solid effort, but it's aspirations are weighed down by Wahlberg and the predictablity that plagues any boxing movie made since 1982.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it, for the performances and for the most hilarious use of prosthetics I've seen in ages (the gut they stick on Wahberg for his "fat" period).

The Fighter is in limited release today. See it or ya fackin' suspect!

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar