Lowdown: A boxer has to fight family demons before he’s able to give a fight in the ring.
Once upon a time there was a film called Rocky. It told the story of a loser boxer who, for some elusive reason, gets to have a shot at greatness. In order to achieve that greatness he needs to do more than just win a battle in the ring: he needs to deal with lots of inner devils and issues with his surroundings. The sequels that followed were generally abysmal, but that original Rocky was quite good; only that it was entirely fictional.
Into the ring steps The Fighter, a film that follows very similar outlines. The main difference is that The Fighter’s story is based on a real one, and that the film does everything it can to create an authentic atmosphere.
We follow Micky (Mark Wahlberg), a small time boxer from a small time American town. His agent is also his mother and his trainer is also his drug addict brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a former boxer himself that had his shot at greatness and missed it. The current management is letting Micky down: they keep on sending him to fights he’s bound to lose, seeking short term income and ruining Micky's motivation in the process. They damage him so badly he’s even ashamed to try and hit things off with this bar girl he’s interested in, Charlene (Amy Adams). A change is due if Micky is to get anywhere other than become a repeat of the failure his brother was, but the question is whether a change is possible given the circumstances everyone is trapped in.
One can easily argue we’ve seen this film before. Hey, I’ve argued that at the beginning of this review. The Fighter does feel like a cut above the rest, and that comes from what seems to be a very authentic setting. For example, the role of Micky’s trainer Mickey O'Keefe is portrayed by the real Mickey O'Keefe!
Authenticity flows from many sources. There is the inclusion of real people and real facts about these real people (e.g., famous boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard). There is the general attitude of the film, which strives to pass as a reality show where the not so beautiful aspects of life are not glossed over. And then there is the acting.
Christian Bale stands out in his portrayal of a drug addict dethroned from former glory. In typical Oscar winning form, he changed his physical appearance in order to portray his character, and while I started this sentence on a cynical note I do have to say he does a hell of a job.
Yet it was Amy Adams’ character I liked the most, probably because we share some personal frustrations. In Charlene’s case, the frustration of nearly making it out of the jail that is a middle of nowhere town via college, but ending up in a dead end job with no salvation prospects. Amy Adams changed her physical appearance for her role, too: she still has that pointy nose of hers, but she added a few kilos; no longer looking like something that came out of Photoshop, she looks like a normal person with a bit of a tummy. The point I am trying to make is that Adams had to stray from the
norms in order to appear normal so that she can pass as a “lowlife”. That has
to say something about the state of American cinema!
Couple the whole package together, and The Fighter can be seen as one of those ultimate American dream films. It tells us that we can work it out and make it out of anywhere (in Micky’s case, making it involves receiving 7 figure payouts). In doing so, The Fighter provides something close to catharsis.
Best scene: The rehabilitated Dicky doesn’t want to do it, but he still knocks on Charlene’s door. She doesn’t want to see him, but the two still manage to reconcile in order to give Micky a fighting chance. The combination of the reluctant characters trying to do good together was touching, perhaps a statement in humility to humanity as a whole.
Technical assessment: The Fighter is made to look and feel like a TV reality show, while the fights are made to look as if shot on video for TV coverage. Do not expect too much out of the picture on this Blu-ray. Sound wise the film is alright and has its moment, although they’re far from knocking the viewer out.
Overall: A solid actors’ movie. 4 out of 5 stars.