' Cinema Romantico: The Fighter

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Fighter

Two times Mark Wahlberg's Mickey Ward, The Fighter himself, is in a boxing match where he employs the same strategy - that is, to let his opponent punch himself out, to stand there, against the ropes, and willingly take a beating until the other guy is worn out and Ward can make his move.  This isn't striking just because of the immense physical toll such a strategy would necessitate but also because of the patience, to wait and wait and wait and know that when you recognize your moment you will be ready and take advantage.  Mickey Ward must have been made of patience.  He had to deal with a mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), who acted much more like a manager and seven sisters not unlike Barry Egan's seven sisters in "Punch Drunk Love" who are kind of like mob wives without the husbands.  It's no wonder his father, George (Jack McGee) is in the roofing business.  He just wanted to get outta that house and up onto the roof, anywhere to get away.  Mickey also has a young daughter who his ex-wife rarely lets him see and, most especially, he has a half brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), who himself used to be a Fighter - the legend goes he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard - but whose life has veered sharply off the rails into the world of crime and crack addiction.  All these people want a piece of him and he lets them have it even if it does him harm he doesn't see or won't admit to because, well, they're family.

The setting is Lowell, Massachusetts.  An HBO crew tags along with Dicky because, as Dicky says, he's making a comeback, though their reasons for filming his life turn out to be a tad more nefarious.  Mickey is busy with his own comeback.  Well, maybe not a comeback, since he didn't, technically, go way, but busy with trying to take one last really solid shot at doing something for real in the ring.  The only people in his corner are family and when a fighter scheduled to meet Mickey in Atlantic City can't make the date the much bigger, stronger boxer is called in as a replacement, rather than back out, like he knows he should, Mickey lets his family talk him into forging ahead since otherwise "nobody gets paid."  Needless to say, things don't go well.

Mickey meets a bartender slathered up in all sorts of sass, Charlene (Amy Adams), who functions - as so many females do in the movies these days - as a conscience for the male protagonist, a voice of reason, and a reason for him to try and address the problems his family cause for him.  Those problems are numerous, of course, but a key one is Dicky getting thrown in jail after a reckless scheme to round up money for Mickey to have year-round training backfires completely.

It if it all sounds familiar, well, it sort of is, even though it's also based on a true story, but director David O. Russell, typically a director who over-embellishes everything, finds a steady groove here that has a strong style without showing off, a problem that plagued him in the past.  Bale is great in the showiest of roles, loaded with tics, shucking and jiving, and Adams is fiery as the lover/adviser, making her more convincing than she has any right to be, and, in fact, Bale and Adams have one of the movie's best scenes on a porch which illustrates the need for warring factions of family to sometimes just shut up and do what's best.  Leo is tremendous in that she is no cartoon monster but subtly manipulative.

Wahlberg, however, quietly intense while everyone around him is hollering, is the crux of the film, proving yet again that (like "Boogie Nights") there are few actors who can so brilliantly underplay an arc.  His family needs him, not just for money but because it seems on the verge of falling apart without his stoicism there to patch the cracks.  It is a film about a fighter, yes, but it is less about the fighter figuring out how to survive those fights than how to persevere in his own family.  Never mind what those self help gurus tell you, sometimes you gotta be a little selfish.

1 comment:

Castor said...

Well-written review Nicholas! I liked that the focus was on his relationship with his family. It made The Fighter slightly different from all the similar-themed movies before it. One of my favorite movie of the year!