Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Fighter

Every time I thought of this film I’d get Christina Aguilera’s song “Fighter” in my head, which puts a strange girl-power perspective on this boxing drama. To make it clear: the song and film are not related, although actually if you read through the lyrics you’d get an internal monologue from The Fighter himself, Micky Ward.

See, Micky takes shadow boxing to the extreme by forever being in his big brother’s shadow. Big Bro, Dicky, was a success until a pesky crack addiction turned him into a twitchy ball of trouble. The Fighter is Micky’s tale of battling with an overbearing family in order to do what he does best: punch other men in the face and kidneys.

So far, so familiar sports-biog (it’s based on a true story), but The Fighter surprises a sports-biog-snob like myself by flinging some depth into the mix. Not just a tale of Micky, but a peak at his brother’s fall from grace, his mother’s misguided love, and the love fraught with conflict from his girlfriend. Director David O. Russell (behind 90’s hit Three Kings) keeps the pace moving with a belting soundtrack, blistering fight scenes and, naturally, some sport-based montages.

But what really impresses is the cast. Christian Bale skinnies up for Dicky, but it’s not just the weight loss that forms his transformation. His jumpy, haggard exterior is a sight to behold, adding warmth and humour where necessary and crafting an awards-deserving performance. Wide-eyed Amy Adams casts aside her sweet and timid typecast and brings believable power and raunch to her role as the girlfriend, creating a role that is more than just “token woman at the ring-side”. And in the middle of it is Mark Wahlberg as Micky. Good old Mark. I’ve a soft spot for his simple face, and his parts in The Departed and The Other Guys have certainly impressed. But though the character requires it, you can’t help but feel he is the lump of melancholic meat overshadowed by a zesty and exciting side dish.

Just as Portman wowed with her dedication to ballet skills and physique for Black Swan (whose director Aronofsky is The Fighter’s producer), so must credit go to Wahlberg and Bale for honing their bodies into boxing machines. The fight scenes are wincingly real, punches connecting with such apparent force that you’ll forget you’re watching a couple of actors and assume it’s a real boxing match. Without any real interest in the sport, I was still wrapped up in the obligatory finale, but because of the additional family element the film satisfies much more than on a basic “yay sport” level.

Though not as intense an experience as Black Swan, The Fighter still impresses with a formidable cast and chunkier-than-expected plot. A family drama with boxing on the side, The Fighter notches up a CF2, and I wouldn’t be surprised if an award or two tags along soon either.

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