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The Fighter
Genre Drama

Boxing is one of those sports that has fascinated Hollywood for ages... It's easy to see how the blood, sweat and tears shed in the boxing ring could inspire films like Raging Bull and Rocky. Yet, the real drama happens outside the ring in preparation, training, media speculation and in betting circles. Corrupt officials, match-fixing and personal afflictions are where the real action is and it's these themes that make sports movies great.

Rooting for the underdog is a popular theme for sports movies and this is the true story of "Irish" Mickey Ward, a boxer in the 1980s. His brother, Dicky Eklund, known as the "Pride of Lowell" for knocking Sugar Ray Leonard down in a fight in 1978, has since become a crack addict. Now the subject of a documentary in which he believes he's making a comeback at the age of 40, it's Dicky who inspires Mickey to carry the torch and go professional. The brawler-turn-pro boxer has a tough time relying on his brother, and doesn't always agree with his domineering mother and manager, Alice, who's intent on keeping it in the family.

The Fighter chronicles the trials and tribulations of Ward, whose troubled brother inspired and frustrated him. It's an uplifting story, a triumph of the human spirit as two brothers simulatenously reach new heights. Mickey pushes away from his family to fight for himself and reach his true potential, while Dicky tries to come clean and kick his addiction - both realising the value of the interdependent relationship they've fostered over the years.

Mark Wahlberg is a real contender and delivers another solid, generous and likable performance as Mickey Ward. He's obviously done the work, playing a real character with great conviction and drive. Yet, it's Christian Bale who almost derails the title character completely. Some would say Bale was overacting, but the credits reveal the real Dicky Eklund and Bale has matched... no, mastered the mannerisms of Eklund. The performance is scene-stealing and turns a supporting role into something of a co-lead.

As if two top-notch "co-leads" wasn't enough, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams step in to deliver two equally good performances. Leo captures the essence of the willful and nepotistic Alice Ward, a matriarch and headstrong woman. Adams chimes in as Charlene Fleming, Mickey's devoted girlfriend... yet another "Fighter". The central characters all seem to channel the spirit of the underdog... tenacious, strong-willed and ready to drop the gauntlet to guard their values.

David O. Russell directs in a fluid and spontaneous manner. It conveys a sense of reality, giving the camera freedom of movement and allowing us to get into the swing of things. The Fighter isn't just a drama, it carries a good sense of humour too. Alice Ward's collection of daughters is one point of recurring comedy as they function like a litter of puppies... going with the flow, echoing their mother's sentiment in a "so you think you're better than me" collective. There are several laugh-out-loud funny moments as Dicky tries to keep his head above the water and sidestep the law, responsibility and family duty.

The Fighter is a two-tiered movie... with two inspiring characters, each overcoming their own setbacks. This makes the story somewhat disjointed as each contender fights for the lead. Both stories could be a film in their own right and it makes for intriguing interplay as the story twists-and-turns between Wahlberg and Bale. It's also a little confusing, given Bale's charismatic performance, and the camera's propensity to follow him.

Bale's performance alone is worth the admission price of the ticket. It's one of those character-driven stories, which would only be semi-decent if it weren't for the amazing personas at play. The film's several nominations for performances just emphasises this point. However, the biggest travesty is the importance of Wahlberg's lead performance, which has actually been diluted instead of lifted up by his supporting cast. Without the anchor of a dominant lead, the film feels a little lost at sea sometimes... lost, but nevertheless entertaining and inspiring.

The bottom line: Spirited.

7.00/10 ( 1 Vote )
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