Saturday, February 26, 2011
#69: The Fighter
The Fighter is a story about boxer Micky (Mark Wahlberg) and his trainer and half-brother Dick (Christian Bale) who had been a one time aspiring boxing champ and a local legend in his home town of Lowell in Massachussets. As the movie begins, we learn of Dicky's drug addiction that often plays truant with Mick's practice sessions. The other key member in Micky's support staff is his mother Ellis (Mellisa Leo)- a self-appointed manager of Micky's affairs who isn't exactly the epitome of a sports marketing shark who would be out there selling his career prospects. Instead she prefers to run her business from the confines of her home with her husband George (Jack McGee) while taking care of their 7 daughters. The lack of professionalism that is missing in Micky's boxing career is disturbing for him even as he chooses to live with it. While the family loves Micky and hopes to see him as the champion boxer he always wanted to be, what he gets from his family is talk and errant practice sessions.
Enter Sharleen (Amy Adams)- a neighborhood bartender who is too attractive for Mickey to ignore. In a scene that's laced with as much innocence as cheekiness, Micky asks her out and gets her phone number. Sharleen soons starts taking interests in Micky's career and it doesn't take her long to figure out that she has to get him out of the clutch of his family for him to fare any better. She knows Dicky self-destructed as a boxer and she is not going to allow for a repeat of this pattern in Mickey's career. Even if she comes across as a bitch to his family. That doesn't take long for her to achieve. Thus, The Fighter becomes a story of not just Micky's boxing career but his fight to stay close to his loved ones and yet aspire to be a champion. The movie's advancement as a drama derives much of it's content from this personal conflict in Micky's life and that is one of the three reasons why The Fighter is a strong movie.
In Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Mellisa Leo, the movie's support cast is as solid as any ensemble cast and their brilliant performances holds the movie cohesively. A special mention for Christian Bale who with his extra lean look will remind you of his frame in The Illusionist. Just like in that role, Bale put himself through another phase of abstinence from eating to lose the extra pounds. And that is just the physical appearance part of it. His character Dicky makes you laugh with his antics, amuses you with his hollow lectures to his brother and yet when he decides to take the rein of Micky's last fight in his hands, his resolve will move you. His goofy but well-intentioned performance actually steals the show from Mark Wahlberg and that is exactly the kind of character Dick Eklund was in real life. A scene in which Dick is on the telephone in a prison while waiting to hear about the outcome of his brother's match is so spendidly done it will leave a lump in your throat. All this with just the accompaniment of a stirring background score. We all knew Amy Adams could act but having seen her as a nun in The Doubt and the sweet Julie in Julie and Julia, it was a revelation to see her as the tough-as-nails Sharleen.
The third reason why The Fighter will in a manner of speaking knock you out is the way the boxing fights have been shot. Mark Wahlberg who was also a producer on this project had mentioned in an interview as early as 2007 that he didn't think the fight scenes seemed real even in great boxing movies like The Raging Bull and The Rocky . Well, let's just say, Mark along with David O. Russell, cinematographer Hoytema and the screenplay writing team of Tamasy, Johnson and Silver have set a new benchmark in filming boxing bouts. There's is nothing to say except that when a fight is on in the movie, the viewer is transformed being in a seat in a theater to that of a ringside seat in a boxing arena. Truth be told, it is a bit surprising to not see D.O.P. Hoytema to be not nominated for the Oscars.
To finally cut to the chase now. If you're sports movies nut, you have to see this before you die. If you're a movies freak, you must see this to know how much more can be achieved from a sports movie. And if you are not into movies at all, The Fighter would be a great place to start.
P.S.: The Fighter has been nominated for 7 Oscars. With strong contenders like The King's Speech and The Social Network, the Best Picture, Editing and Director ones are practically ruled out. The best it can do is pick up Oscars for Amy Adams and Christian Bale - the former is a favorite in my books and latter, a the dark horse.