Those hoping to be wowed by thrilling fighting scenes in a movie called The Fighter will apparently be sorely let down. The boxing matches in David O. Russell’s new film are too sparse, clumsily edited, narrowly focused, and awkwardly shot. Raging Bull this is not. Why then, is The Fighter still such a good movie?
The most obvious reason is the impeccable talent demonstrated effortlessly from each member of the cast.
In The Fighter, Mark Wahlberg plays real life boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, a middle-lower class white guy from a crusty Boston neighborhood. As Ward, Wahlberg never does anything showy. There’s no fall-to-his-knees-and-cry moment, no extended monologue to serve as his Oscar clip. Wahlberg, much like the real man, plays Ward as understated and soft spoken; a nice guy down on his luck.
On the flip side of that is Ward's mile-a-minute, crack-addicted half brother/boxing trainer, Dicky. Christian Bale, easily the most underrated actor currently working in cinema, plays Dicky flawlessly. There’s the several pounds lost, the authentic boxing moves, the perfect Boston accent, the furious volcanic temper, the warranted shame; it’s all here, tightly encompassed into a performance that should surely generate several dozen awards.
While Bale is constantly overlooked for his performances, I’ve thought for several years that Amy Adams was too appreciated. Junebug? Okay. Doubt? Eh. Julie & Julia? Barf. But as Ward’s foul mouthed love interest, Adams is an utter revelation. She is constantly forced to go verbally pound for pound with Ward’s demented family (aside from Dicky, he has at least six bat shit sisters, most of which have different fathers). It’s a performance of delicate warmth and no nonsense self-respect. Definitely worth the praise.
As is Melissa Leo's, who plays Ward’s overbearing mother/manager. With her moussed bleach blonde hair and atrocious post-‘80s wardrobe, Leo nails the constant bitterness and seldom moments of fleeting appreciation that are demanded of the complicated role. Leo, as she’s proved in 21 Grams, Frozen River and Treme, is a real pro. No change here.
I’ve focused mostly on The Fighter’s acting for a very specific reason: it’s easily the best part of the film, which, unfortunately, carries a few flaws that the average viewer won’t be able to shake. I mentioned that the boxing scenes are anti-climatic and misguided; as is a fair portion of the scenes outside the ring.
During the film’s many heated dialogue exchanges, I kept wondering when a point was going to be made, or a catharsis was going to be reached Most of the film’s scenes run too long and aren’t evenly cut together. I don’t mind slow; slow is fine if that is the constant pace. What I don’t like is meandering, a word that popped into my head a few times during this film.
It isn’t enough to kill the movie, for my money the good here outweighs the bad, but it’s enough to call it a slight letdown. No matter, if the role of Dicky gets Christian Bale to the Oscar podium, all will be forgiven. B+