I miss the days when you could walk into a movie with little to no expectations, other than appreciating the actors or perhaps the director’s last film. Now by the time a movie hits its release date we have heard about every behind the scenes skirmish between actors, the fights over final cut, who the studio will put money behind for award consideration. Take The Fighter, for example. Here we have a perfectly nice little sports film, based on a true story, that would be perfect for Disney minus the cursing. However, you take that same script and give it to a director known for getting into fights with his actors on set. Now cast an actor in a supporting role that is known to transform himself to a degree that puts Tom Hanks to shame. For the cherry on top, release this film in a down year for the studios. What you’ve got on your hands now folks is an “important” film, and maybe the most overrated movie of the year.
The Fighter tells the story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Dicky was at one time a promising welterweight boxer who once went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard, but is now addicted to crack and spiraling out of control. Mickey is a light welterweight who is on a losing streak when the film opens. The streak isn’t helped by his manager mother (Melissa Leo) who pushes him into fighting a boxer twenty pounds heavier for the paycheck, resulting in another loss. Considering retirement and depressed, he meets Charlene (Amy Adams), who gives him both some good advice and someone in his corner for once. Ward makes his return to the ring, and the rest is boxing history.
Leaving the theater, I couldn’t help but notice just how much this movie reminded me of every sports movie that Disney has released in the past five years. Honestly, if you take out the cursing and put in a song and dance number to a Motown song, you are halfway there. Some of the blame for this should probably go to director David O. Russell. Russell, best known for Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees, has shown that he can make a movie with visual flair. Here it seems that he did little more than point the camera, let the actors do their thing, and just put in his time. Of course, Russell is known to have a temper on set, be openly hostile toward his actors, and I didn’t realize until recently that he hasn’t actually made a film since Huckabees, so maybe this was his way of showing the studios that he can make a normal movie without video leaking onto the internet of him threatening elderly female cast members. If so, good job Mr. Russell, you are now out of director’s jail.
The one thing that is being hyped that isn’t a disappointment about the film, however, are the performances. Wahlberg does a good job at playing Ward as a guy that is on the second half of a disappointing career and doesn’t quite know what to do from one minute to the next without the guidance of those around him. Amy Adams is the heart of the film, and also the audiences’ surrogate voice within the film by being the only one willing to tell Ward, “You’re family is using you and they are ruining your career.” Christian Bale, in a career full of great performances, manages to perhaps top them all with his depiction of Eklund and his descent into drug addiction. Most surprising about Bale’s performance is how light hearted it is. He plays Eklund as almost comic relief and, in maybe a Bale first, smiles on screen for more than three seconds during the film.
The Fighter is a really good movie. It is not a great movie. I would never suggest that anyone avoid this film, but keep your expectations in check while buying your tickets.