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Review – The Fighter (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

‘Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ Thomas Wayne may have asked his son this question in Batman Begins; yet, the question (and subsequent answer) is an equally valid motto for another excellent movie: The Fighter.

The Fighter is based on a true story. Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg – The Lovely Bones, The Italian Job, We Own The Night) comes from a deprived area in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is a street-sweeper by trade and an aspiring boxer on the side, struggling to make an honest buck. Mickey has been taught everything he knows by his older brother, Dickey (Christian Bale – The Machinist, The Dark Knight, 3:10 To Yuma), who is an ex-boxer that never quite made it big. In recent times, Dickey has become a crack-addict. As much as he is Mickey’s best aid, Dickey is also his brother’s greatest liability. Mickey’s mother and manager, Alice (Melissa Leo – Hide and Seek, Conviction, Red State), as well as the rest of this family (possibly minus his father), are not much better either.

Mickey does and, simultaneously, does not have the right kind of support. His confidence is low; he hasn’t done well in his previous fights. He’s struggling. It’s only after he meets Charlene (Amy Adams – Catch Me If You Can, Enchanted, The Master), a not unattractive college drop-out with little going for her; takes a battering against a boxer with twenty pounds more muscle on him; and after he recovers from a broken hand, that Mickey’s fortunes begin to change for the positive. But it does not come without an immense amount of hard work and sacrifice.

The plot may not move at breakneck speed, but it is still quite inspiring and entertaining. The quality of the acting by Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Christian Bale is undoubtedly the best feature of the film. Due to Wahlberg’s performance, one has little difficulty empathising with Mickey. Wahlberg wonderfully captures the timidity of a humble person that suffers from low confidence and dejection, without being melodramatic. Likewise, Wahlberg maintains his character’s dignity admirably when he regains his self-assurance. This is no easy feat. Why Wahlberg was not nominated for an Oscar is a mystery.

One who was nominated for an Oscar is Amy Adams. Here, she plays the role of Mickey’s highly supportive girlfriend splendidly. Charlene has her issues as well, buttressing Adams’ performance because it makes her act more realistically. The only thing that works against Adams is that Charlene does not have an overly challenging personality. This may stop Adams from an Oscar triumph.

The same cannot be said for Christian Bale’s acting in The Fighter. In arguably his finest performance yet, Bale outshines his co-stars. When he’s not on-screen, one almost wishes him to return as he is that good. One could feasibly believe that Bale is a drug-addict from this movie, such is the intensity and energy he puts into the role. (And this is saying something for a man who has played many diverse roles extremely well throughout his career.) If he wins an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, it will be fully justified.

The cast could not have acted so well without brilliant scripts. For this, credit must go to the script-writer, Scott Silver (8 Mile), and the director, David O. Russell (Three Kings). The scripts may not be as elegant and witty as that in The King’s Speech, or as intelligent as that in True Grit. Still, the dialogue between the characters in The Fighter is indicative of the environment from which Mickey, Dickey and Charlene come from, and, therefore, gives the movie a greater sense of realism.

Charlene (Amy Adams) at the bar where she meets Mickey.

If one were to be ruthless, one could argue that the choreography and the music in The Fighter were not as sublime as the above films. Some scenes did not flow as smoothly as they could have done; and, with regards to the feel-good factor, the music here was not as uplifting as the scores in The King’s Speech. Similarly, it is also a shame for the director that the cinematography could not have been as beautiful as in other films (for example The Way Back), since The Fighter is shot in depressing neighbourhoods. This should not, theoretically, take anything away from the film. Nevertheless, seeing miserable areas is not as aesthetically pleasing as picturesque landscapes. Again though, this is being very harsh (and semi-unfair) on the director.

All-in-all, The Fighter, despite some minor defects, is a fantastic film and has a cast worthy of their nominations; Bale particularly so. The movie also has plenty of moral messages. It illustrates how bad environments can hinder one’s progress and shows us the possible results of drug addiction. But most importantly of all, The Fighter emphasises that when one gets knocked down by life’s challenges, one has to learn how to stand up again and fight on.

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