If there’s just one film to watch in theaters right now, it’s not Black Swan. The Fighter brings out a knockout real life story combined with spectacular acting from almost a dozen characters in what’s easily one of the best supporting casts of the year. As someone who typically dislikes all of Christian Bale’s roles, I finally found myself hinging on his every word and still wanting more once the credits role.
In fact, the only two complaints about the entire film that I have are that a few punches look fake in slow motion, and that I wish the final fight was longer. That’s it. The rest of this review will do nothing but sing praises for this movie, so you should probably just stop reading and go watch what’s easily one of the best films of 2010
There are so many crucial and phenomenal supporting characters in The Fighter that at times it feels like they’re all main characters, but it’s still always clear who the main ones are as we watch Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) travel on two distinct journeys through the boxing industry out of their small town where everyone knows everyone.
Dicky was Mom’s (Alice Ward, played by Melissa Leo) pride and joy in a family of nine as a star boxer in his youth, which he squanders by going on to lead a life as a crack addict. There’s a documentary that’s being filmed about his life within the film, and for the first half hour we mostly think it’s about his life as a boxer, only to find out it’s a life lesson story about the dangers of drugs. The pacing is superb and I love that we don’t see characters hit rock bottom and clash with friends and family within the first 15 minutes. Emotions build and escalate and when voices rise it leaves you sitting back unsure of how things will play out in every pivotal and memorable scene.
Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) goes far beyond just being Mickey’s love interest, and is a fighter herself as she pleads with him to not allow his family to drag him down. Dicky’s ticket to fame has long since expired, yet the family seems fixated on his 15 minutes of fame that they’ve stretched into 15 years of celebration, which has Mickey perpetually underprepared and underappreciated. Alice’s hold on the family as a mother who cares too much in ways that do more harm than help is the borderlines scary role that holds the movie together. We see the pain she causes in Mickey for wanting to push away and we see the pain in her when he eventually does. The father (George Ward, played by Jack McGee) who helps make this separation also fluctuates from being a fantastic comic relief to giving some of the absolute best verbal fights you’ve seen in years in the movie industry. There’s something magical about seeing two people scream at each other and feel that every word of it is truly real, and we see this repeatedly in The Fighter.
The amount of time invested in Dicky’s slow fall to rock bottom and the crawling pace of Mickey’s rise to fame has us believing that maybe Dicky truly won’t recover from his inevitable trip to jail and maybe Mickey never will catch his break. In that aspect it’s easily one of the best boxer films I’ve ever seen since montages don’t guarantee success and you worry from start to finish for its characters.
Mickey O’Keefe did an amazing job playing his own role in the movie as the local cop who doubles as Mickey Ward’s coach, and for once I feel like the people responsible for casting deserve every dollar of the huge salary they receive, since the lesser roles of the seven sisters all felt perfectly cast and perfectly played as the inflating cast for the terror that is Mother Ecklund that doubles as the deflating cast against Mickey and Charlene. Even Dicky’s kid is given a few small scenes to show how deep a love for a faulty father can be in its unwavering amount of blind faith, which we see in other aged characters, but not in others. You truly feel like every character is a fighter of their own hopes and fears.
As for the actual fights, there’s a decent quantity of them, though it’s always clear that this is a distraught family film first and foremost. When the boxing gloves do come on though, we see some great visual effects that I was a huge fan of. Since all of these fights actually occurred decades ago, it has every televised fight camera look every bit as old as the footage should be. Even sitting in the theater some fights come out as blurry, and even the extreme close-ups come off as jagged interpolated television cameras that look distinctly different from the film cameras we’re used to as a movie audience. It helps adds so much immersion to the atmosphere of a town filled with people all turning on their clunky television set to watch their local friend in a huge boxing fight, and at times it even feels like we’re watching footage of Mark Wahlberg fighting from decades ago.
I love how everyone’s on the phone during the fights talking about every round, and that town transitions can be as simple as someone walking off down a road, and that every character is flawed in some realistic way.
We walk into movie theaters wanting to care about a film and so often a movie lets us down, but The Fighter will have you deeply caring about every single face that opens its mouth. It’s a spectacular story that juggles so much and accomplishes everything it sets out to achieve. It feels great to finally see a movie that has Academy Award potential in more ways than one. The Social Network is still my pick for best movie of 2010, but this may be my second favorite film of the year.
Josh Parker: A dysfunctional family drama first and a boxing movie second, The Fighter flourishes with Oscar-worthy performances from Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. 86 – Excellent You can read his full review here!