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"The Fighter" Boxes Over Familiar Terrain, But Bale Is An Undisputed Knock-Out
on December 21, 2010
"The Fighter" is easily director David O. Russell's most conventional film to date. Russell has been out of the film world for a few years after the mixed reception he received with the release of 2004's "I Heart Huckabees," an underrated film that may have tried a bit too hard. But when Russell burst onto the scene with the subversive "Spanking the Monkey," the exquisitely madcap "Flirting with Disaster," and the audacious "Three Kings"--I knew that I would follow this guy wherever he led! Well, he's back. "The Fighter" comes straight from the underdog sports genre of filmmaking, and in its plotting stays true to the course you would expect. But thankfully, there's a bit more to this appealing tale that's as much about brotherhood as it is about prizefighting. Sold by an A-list cast (the acting awards and nominations have already started rolling in), "The Fighter" manages, for the most part, to transcend the usual cliches with its focus on family.
Telling the true life tale of Micky Ward's unorthodox, and extremely bumpy, road to capturing the world light welterweight title--"The Fighter" appeals to the same everyman underdog sensibilities that countless films have already tapped. Mark Wahlberg, in a refreshingly understated way, lends a calmness to the center of the picture. The rest of the cast, for good and bad, go for broke in large showy performances. Christian Bale, gaunt and tweaking, plays Ward's brother. A former boxer and Micky's trainer, Bale is hapless and helpless as a habitual crack addict and a lowlife criminal. The drama between Bale and Wahlberg is easily the strongest element in "The Fighter" with Bale being both invaluable AND utterly destructive to Wahlberg's career prospects. Wahlberg is continually overshadowed within the family by his needier brother who tasted greatness before completely falling apart.
Make no mistake, in my opinion, "The Fighter" belongs to Christian Bale in perhaps the finest performance of his career and of the year. Stripped to skeletal proportions, Bale inhabits every moment with a desperate intensity. But despite everything, you understand why Wahlberg can't turn his back on his brother. Amy Adams displays a pleasing toughness in a change of pace role as Wahlberg's girlfriend. And Melissa Leo has been garnering a lot of attention as the brothers' mother. Unfortunately, the film is not without its shortcomings. For my taste, Leo is a bit over-the-top as is much of the other family dynamic. There are many sisters on hand, none of whom are developed, and so when the whole clan gets together--those scenes tend to veer over the line of believability.
I can easily overlook these false (and noisy) moments, however, to admire the interplay between the brothers. Every quiet moment is worth it. It's easy to lose Walhberg in all the larger than life shenanigans, but were it not for his simplicity--""The Fighter" might have pushed into overwrought melodrama. As is, he perfectly balances with Bale's manic energy. And I have to say it again--Bale is stunning! For this alone, "The Fighter" stands apart from every other film selling a similar story. Bale, Bale, Bale!!!!! KGHarris, 12/10.