There is absolutely nothing new about sports flick. Some of the first motion pictures used various athletes as their subjects. As the art form grew movies about sports and the men and women notable in these endeavors became some of the best received and well lauded films of their day. A few have gone on to winning Academy Awards including the one under consideration here, ‘The Fighter’. What differentiates this movie from so many like it is the depth of raw human emotion it reflects. The sport depicted here, boxing, is the canvas the filmmaker employs to tell the age old story of two brothers. In many ways this elevates the film far above what most have come to expect from a sports movie so that audience members not particularly interested in sports or boxing specifically can readily find themselves pulled into the intense story being told. The film is brilliant in its presentation of human short comings. Most sports movies focus on the strength of the human spirit in overcoming adversity but this film lingers on the agony of defeat as much as thrill of victory. The main characters and far from perfect; most would not exactly fit the bill as realistic role models. ‘The Fighter’ is based on real people and has a contemporary setting affording the viewer a greater opportunity to identify with the people and situations. Most cinephiles have seen their fair share of boxing movies from ‘Raging Bull’ to the ‘Rocky’ franchise but this film strive to explore directions not covered by those notable examples. This is a film that manages to project more than gut pounding physicality; it infuse an intelligence into the mix making this not only one of the great boxing movies but an intriguing movie that will capture your attention holding it throughout its duration. The film did take home Oscars for both Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor as well as five other major nominations including the rare occurrence of two actresses up for supporting actress. It is difficult to place this film in a single category or the restriction of a specific genre. Its appeal is much greater; universally human.
This story and script used here was a product of several individuals collaborating. One factor that contributed to broad appeal of this film is the variety manifested in their prior experiences. Scott Silver brought a youthful slant obtained in his screenwriting for ‘8 Mile’ and ‘The Mod Squad’ while Paul Tamasy had a sports background, albeit targeting a much younger demographic writing for the Disney ‘Air Bud’ franchise. Meanwhile this is an initial opus for Eric Johnson adding as fresh perspective. Many times such a team approach to script writing results in a disjointed effort that fails to focus properly. Fortunately this is not the case here. The screenplay is seamless in its crafting pulling together in a symbiotic fashion; the whole far exceeding the sum of its parts. Taken in isolation the components may seem overly familiar; Irish brothers, boxers and sibling rivalry. Throw in the required feisty woman and you have the basis of a hackney flick but that is predicated on a treatment but filmmaker and cast of considerably less talent than evident here.
This is only the foundation of excellence to be found here. The next level is achieved by the director, David O. Russell. He also developed his style through vastly different projects. He has helmed action with ‘Three Kings’, dark comedy with ‘Flirting with Disaster’ and blended comedy with drama in ‘I Heart Huckabees’. The way he handles the direction of this film uses the fight sequences as a form of connective tissue holding the work together. While the visceral impact of a film like ‘Raging Bull’ but that was never the intention here. The film takes you along as Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) pursues his dream of being a champion welterweight boxer. In his corners is his manager mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) and his older half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Micky idolizes Dicky based on his televised win over Sugar Ray Leonard before his career ruining addiction to crack cocaine. Micky gets his big break in Las Vegas when he has to replace a boxer who came down ill. He is grievously overmatched by a fighter in a heavy weight class but is pushed into by Alice and Dicky who are anxious to get the purse. After a humiliating defeat Micky isolates himself pulling away from his family. During this time he meets a young woman Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) once a promising college athlete has now become a bartender. This includes her in a contrast between all the main characters to examine a personal issue intriguing top the audience; the internal struggle between happiness and fulfilling your personal ambitions. This is the heart of this film; the way life diverges from the dreams of your youth. As John Lennon once mused ‘life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.’ in the case of each of the main characters hopeful ambitions crumbled under the overwhelming burden of reality. For Micky he wants to be a boxer, more successful than his older brother. Dicky was blinded by addiction; surrendering his hopes of being a contender by yielding to the siren call of a rock of crack. Even Alice is in a dead end. She wanted to help push her son to glory only to be stopped by her son’s predilections.
This is simply a remarkable stage for some of the most intense performances to come around in a long time. In a year of truly great films the presentations of the cast here are an emotional tsunami sweeping the audience away. Adams has certainly grown from the sweet princes roles that initiated her early career. Her performance here is bold, edgy; able to stand toe to toe with some of the best in the industry. You might be a little surprise that her language, while fully in line with her use of curse words comes close to exceed her male co-stars. This is one not to miss.