Movie Review: THE FIGHTER

Wahlberg at the AFI premiere

When The Fighter (opening Dec. 10) had its world premiere at the AFI Fest presented by Audi, Mark Wahlberg introduced the film and said if anyone didn’t like it, “I will personally come to your house and give you back the two hours you spent watching it. I’ll cook, clean, move shit!” I don’t think he’ll get too many phone calls from people asking him to do yard work unless they just want an excuse to see him with his shirt off.

The movie, which the actor produced as well as stars in, is based on the true story of underdog boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s (Wahlberg) unlikely journey towards an eventual world championship. He’s trained by his half-brother, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him down, which makes Dickie a local celebrity in their hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. But Dickie has turned into a crackhead and become unreliable, often not showing up for training. He also thinks he’s being filmed for an HBO show about his making a comeback but it’s actually a documentary about crack users.

Micky’s situation isn’t helped by his mother/manager, Alice (Melissa Leo), who seems to only set him up to lose. He starts making smarter decisions after meeting Charlene (Amy Adams), a waitress at a local bar who becomes his girlfriend and encourages him to distance himself from his family if he wants a shot at the title.

While the movie is well-directed by David O. Russell and handled beautifully by the cast, it doesn’t add anything new to the underdog boxing movie sub-genre. It follows the basic structure of so many others, e.g. Cinderella Man or Rocky, though it isn’t as bloody, which I appreciated.

The Fighter does have a couple of knockout performances from Bale and Leo. The former is almost unrecognizable with sunken eyes, bad teeth, and bald spot on a skeletal frame. At first I wasn’t sure whether he was trying too hard by piling on the tics and drastic changes in his appearance, but when a clip of the real Dickie played at the end of the movie, I realized Bale was dead-on.

Leo is like we’ve never seen her, leaving behind the mousy brunettes she usually plays with brassy blond hair that’s bigger than Taylor Swift’s career and a wardrobe cheaper than Walmart specials on Black Friday. Alice has no business managing Micky’s career but Leo doesn’t make her an obvious villain, leaving us to decide instead whether Alice is simply inept or truly greedy and spotlight hungry. Adams is also spunkier than usual as Charlene, showing she’s not all Disney-princess innocent, at one point even getting into a fist fight. The film’s chances at snagging Oscar acting nominations are good but I don’t see it winning the Best Picture title.

Note: To watch the real HBO documentary called High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell that features Dickie and is mentioned in the movie, click here.

Nerd verdict: Scrappy Fighter but not quite a champion

Mark Wahlberg AFI photo © AFI/The Fighter photos © Paramount Pictures

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    December 6, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I’ve seen the trailer for this, but was a bit confused as to whether or not it would be any good. I was going to see it anyway because of Christian Bale because, love him or hate him, he’s always interesting to watch. Wahlberg is just a guilty pleasure in that he’s not the best actor in the world but he appeals to your sense of being a guy. Thanks for the review, PCN. Fighter is on my list of movies to see over the holidays.

  • Reply
    Christine
    December 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    I clicked on the link you provided for the HBO documentary. Interesting and depressing as hell. (Today it would be called High in Meth County.) From just the bits about Dickie and Alice, the word is DENIAL. Alice had some powerful blinders on to deal and get to whatever she saw as the goal…or just clueless. I couldn’t tell. Between your review and watching that video, I’m pretty interested in seeing the film now. Thanks, PCN.

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    December 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Reader#9—Yes, Bale always does interesting work. I really admire how versatile he is. There is absolutely no trace of Batman in Dickie, that’s for sure.

    Christine—Denial is what I’d call it, too. The documentary is very sad.

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    December 8, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    So if I don’t like it, Wahlberg is coming to my house and do some yard work? Okay, I’ll play that angle. Maybe I can get him to change my kid’s diapers.

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