Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Fighter

Micky Ward is a young boxer who’s trained by his half-brother Dicky, a former boxer himself but currently struggling with a crack cocaine addiction, and managed by his mother Alice, an overbearing matriarch who seems to favour Dicky over Micky. Micky’s career is in a slump, as he’s seen as a stepping stone for other fighters to further their career. But when he starts a relationship with a bartender called Charlene, he realises there may be more options in his career other than his family. Can he kickstart his career, or will the tension growing between his family and his new girlfriend ruin everything before they’ve begun?

Say what you will about the Academy, they’re a sucker for a good boxing movie. Rocky won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing as well as being nominated for 6 others. Raging Bull won Best Actor and Best Editing as well, picking up 6 more nominations on top of that. The Fighter has, inevitably, picked 6 nominations this year including Best Picture, Best Director and a few acting nominations. So will it be able to take its place amongst the great boxing movies? Going by the evidence on show, it’s almost certain that it will.

Though it may not win Best Picture or Best Director, it seems a shoe-in to walk away from the Kodak Theatre with Best Supporting Actor for Christian Bale at the very least. Bale is phenomenal in this, I’ve seen no other supporting actor who delivers such a strong performance, completely stealing focus from Mark Wahlberg, the leading actor. He delivers a raw, genuine performance as a man engulfed by a crack cocaine habit living off of his former glory (He once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, you know) and it’s hard to see anyone denying him the accolade he deserves for this. He mimics the actual Dicky perfectly, nailing the movements and mannerisms, as well as his distinct Bostonian accent.

Of course, The Fighter seems almost certain to walk away with Best Supporting Actress as well, with both supporting ladies picking up nominations. Amy Adams is great as Charlene, a brassy Boston bartender with a strong will and dominating attitude, completely going against type here. But, even this is outshone by Melissa Leo’s Alice, the dominating matriarch. Her and Bale are, without a doubt, are the main focuses of the film, they grab the attention of the audience in whatever scene they’re in. Melissa Leo plays what is essentially, to an outsider, the mother from hell – Unwilling to trust anyone outside the family, managing Micky’s career with the family’s financial interests at heart rather than progressing Micky’s career further and choosing the right opponents for him. There’s nothing wrong with Marky Mark’s turn as Micky Ward, the calm centre within a crazy family, but it’s just not strong enough to compete with Adams, Leo and Bale. He’s actually quite a good boxer in this, has a good style and pulls off his role of Micky pretty darn well.

Visually, it adopts a documentary style, and it suits it completely, looking somewhat similar to The Wrestler (Yes, I keep coming back to it, it’s one of my favourites, shut up) and giving the feeling of a true-to-life documentary, which is pretty much is, being a dramatised version of the events in the life of Micky Ward. The real Micky and Dicky even make an appearance over the credits, following the tradition of the real-life dramas we’ve seen this year, what with Aron Ralston appearing at the end of 127 Hours. The direction is top notch, and David O. Russell deserves recognition for that but he will, inevitably, be the forgotten man in this. The script is strong, and tells the story of the Ward family without any irony or ludicrousness, it stays with the emotion that the story delivers and deserves.

Overall, The Fighter is a really top class drama, but it’s not really about the boxing. It goes deep to the heart of the Boston family construct and deconstructs it, making it relatable and heartbreaking to watch at time, before becoming a joyous celebration at the end. The strong performances by Bale and Leo (and Adams) will involve you and keep you glued to the screen for the films’ two hour duration. It’s enjoyable, if tough to watch in places, but it’s really top draw stuff. This is why I love awards season, it’s an absolute bloody joy to watch so many great films all at once, even if the rest of the year is filled with crap. It would seem Christian Bale can do no wrong right now, behind the scenes tantrums aside. Maybe that’s why he was cast? A temperamental bastard playing a crack addicted ex-fighter, it fits, right?

Rating: ****1/2