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The Fighter

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The Fighter
Released on Friday, Feb 4 2011

An array of impressive performances dominate David O Russell's underwhelming movie about the real life tale of two brothers and their turbulent relationships with the boxing world and their family. Spearheaded by the phenomenal Christian Bale, the cast land enough emotional blows to ensure that The Fighter punches above its weight despite a script that fails to turn a bog-standard underdog story into a consistently engaging package.

Marky Mark Wahlberg dons both gloves and a hangdog expression as Micky Ward - a downtrodden boxer desperate to land a shot at glory despite an unimpressive record. The real thorn in his side is his management team - which consists of his crack addicted older brother Dicky (Bale) and his obnoxious, blinkered mother Alice (Melissa Leo). In between hearing Dicky's frequent tales of knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard during his own career, Micky finds salvation in the form of a romance with feisty barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams). However, he is soon offered a great opportunity to pursue his boxing dream - but it means turning his back on his loved ones.

The Fighter is lightweight fodder compared to the vastly superior movie The Wrestler, and deals with many of the same themes such as addiction, fractured families and self-respect through violence - except without the lyrical and visceral genius of Darren Aronofsky's film. That's certainly a harsh criticism as it's the inevitable downside in trying to be an authentic representation of true events. Yet the central character of Micky, despite Wahlberg's convincing and understated turn, simply isn't a very interesting bloke. Well, unless you count moping around with a downcast expression as interesting. It requires a fair bit of effort to root for him in the fight scenes, although the determination and hurt that Wahlberg has etched on his face ultimately do the job.

Somewhat paradoxically, both the major strength and flaw of the movie lies within the sheer brilliance of Christian Bale's supporting performance. For a turn as mesmerising as his on-set Terminator Salvation rant, the deserved recent Golden Globe winner has transformed his body into the emaciated state of a hardcore junkie while conveying the desperation and humanity from beneath the vacant, glazed over eyes on his haunted Edvard Munchian face. It's utterly transfixing to watch. Consequently though, this means Wahlberg's lead character is a comparative damp squib in the scenes the pair share together. All eyes are focused on Bale, who colonises his scenes like a weed taking over a poorly tarmaced drive. When the pair are split up for much of the Bale-lite latter half, not enough interest has been generated in the affairs and fate of Micky.

The framework of the storyline is fairly predictable, but there are several wonderful moments within. The verbal sparring between Micky's girlfriend and mother is deliciously portrayed by Leo and Adams, with the hysterical nature of the former lurking somewhere between a hybrid of Amy Winehouse and Pauline Fowler (RIP) from EastEnders. Subtle moments of humour sporadically appear too, with highlights including Micky and Charlene's unlikely date to see Belle Epoque at an arthouse cinema and Dicky's desperate attempts to evade his mother seeing him at a crackhouse.

The Fighter certainly feels at its most cohesive when subtly bringing out such moments of humour and humanity from within rather bleak scenarios. Yet apart from Bale's knockout performance, the movie pales behind several superior movies in the same sub-genre of boxing/wrestling movies. It's more a case of Simmering Bull than Raging Bull.


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