Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Fighter

Audiences want nothing more than to identify with the protagonist of a film. But when Mickey Ward gets ignored by his mother, girlfriend, older half-brother, and seven-loudmouthed sisters, the viewer simply follows suit and does the same.

David O. Russell's The Fighter tells the true story of boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who spends his entire career in the shadow of his older brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), the proclaimed "pride of Lowell, Massachusetts." The height of Eklund's career came from a 10 round bout in which he knocked over Sugar Ray Leonard. However, Dickie fell hard and became addicted to crack to become the character in this story: a failed version of what Mickey hopes to become.

Mickey is subjected to a series of bad losses, thanks in part to the "management" of both his brother and mother (Melissa Leo), who see Mickey fighting as a way to supply cash for the family while Dickie bides his time for his supposed comeback. Then Mickey falls for a sexy and tough bartender by the name of Charlene (Amy Adams). This new girlfriend helps to be the voice of the audience, yelling at Mickey to shed the unneeded baggage that is brought on by his current entourage.

The story may be about the fighting career of Mickey Ward, but that certainly doesn't seem that Mickey is the one making the decisions. When he goes into an obviously mismatched bout, his family persuades him to follow through despite the inevitable defeat. When Mickey receives the opportunity to train in Las Vegas professionally, Charlene all but forces him to take the offer. Even when the film reaches the inevitable showdown of Girlfriend v. Family, Mickey simply says, "I'll go with both," because it pleases everybody. Mickey Ward allows himself to be pushed into decisions by those around him and because of that, it is hard to take him seriously.

The real shining light of the film is from the supporting cast, which is evident from the Oscar nominations received by this ensemble. Christian Bale, who has been bolstering his résumé with characters like Batman and John Conner, underwent the transformation of a career. His portrayal of the crack-addled Dickie was perfect and is Oscar-worthy. Both Leo and Adams locked in stellar performances as well, representing the two sides of Mickey's feelings and straining to help give a one-dimensional character a little more depth.

The fight scenes were filmed from the view of a spectator, ringside and at home on television. However, since it is Mickey's career that the film revolves around, the viewer will find it hard to become drawn into the fights since there is no emotional involvement with the fighter himself. Of course, there is the expectation of Mickey to win. But without the connection to the fighter that feeling of exaltation that should be there is replaced with nothing more than a banal ending to the movie.