Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sparring with the Champ

      Review: The Fighter

     Seldom does a film that is constrained by a hackneyed premise leave one with an indelible feeling of jubilation once the end credits roll.  The cumulative result of a highly gifted actor's performance and age-old storytelling with the hero overcoming insurmountable odds style-pathos, The Fighter creates this jubilant effect and positively sends a euphoric tingle down just about anyone with a warm heart's spine.
      Lets face it.  Christian Bale has the "IT" factor -- which is defined by the ownership of a charismatic, invigorating, and cannot look away kind of domineering presence.  But not merely feeling content to rest on precocious laurels, Bale completely morphs into his character—Dicky Eklund, a crack-addicted, boxing trainer consumed by memories of past glory—in such a captivating manner that you forget in the first ten minutes of the film that Christian Bale is "playing a character."  Instead, you buy into the magic of the gifted auteur and simply concede that Dicky Eklund is "playing Dicky Eklund."  Mysticism has indeed found its ally in the form of the emaciated and meticulously hard-working performer.  The ability of an actor to completely transform oneself is a tremendously difficult task but is also incredibly satisfying when executed effectively. 
      Though Bale delivers a sure-fire Best Supporting Actor performance in The Fighter, by no means does the rest of the cast suffer from any acting shortcomings.  Wahlberg does a proficient job becoming Micky Ward—the brother of Dicky, Micky is a down-and-out boxing journeyman who realizes the glass is half full on his career.  Aside from Wahlberg's impressive physique, his command of the Massachusetts accent and North Massachusetts hardened demeanor is authenticated with great gusto.  Truly, Wahlberg has come a long way from the brash, obnoxious days of Marky Mark. 
      Micky's mother and manager is Alice, who is played magnificently well by Melissa Leo. She adopts the brassy, chain-smoking blonde persona of Alice, and infuses her with an unforgettable energy. Amy Adams also puts forth a strong effort in playing the girlfriend of Micky Ward.  David O. Russell could have easily diminished Adam's role in the film as the proverbial athlete's girlfriend, but instead, Russell arms her with great character pedigree.  More specifically, Adam's character, Charlene, illustrates an uncanny stubbornness and almost funky gumption, as the furious detractor of Micky's motley crew rendered family.  The tension between Charlene and Micky's Mother, Alice are especially poignant.  In fact, the whole dysfunctional Ward family has the whole Jerry Springer watch-ability quality written all over it.  Though at times difficult to watch, Ward's chaotic family provides a certain desperation quality to Micky's boxing life.  The destructive nature of Micky's relationship with his family is taxed by both a dangerous enabling mentality and a demeaning social order.  Micky's family constantly belittles "outsiders" of their family clique.  Ultimately though, Micky's girlfriend Charlene "rescues" him from this debilitating circumstance and helps pave a path for a redemptive boxing turnaround.  All the while, Charlene has her own personalized character arc that helps fuel the film's climax. 
      Aside from a strong cast and an outstanding tour de force acting display, David O. Russell's directing skills help distinguish The Fighter as an above average sports movie.  The sports genre of film is often the victim of cliched plots, robotic, dismissible character arcs, lackluster acting displays, and numerous other forgettable, gimmicky traits.  Although, The Fighter has a certain cliched narrative structure and hits some of the familiar beats of other sports films—particularly, Rocky—the film still manages to create a visceral emotion with the audience.  Russell's credentialed direction in the film is both underscored and enhanced by a stylized-musical rhythm, which negates the impact of any sports film tropes.  For instance, the opening sequence of the film introduces both the two focal characters and the setting, while simultaneously unleashing a fast-paced montage that is anchored by the thunderous beats of the familiar song: "How you like me now" by The Heavy. 
      Russell's crowning accomplishment with The Fighter is his overall command of the story and setting.  The character's all give convincing performances and the representation of Lowell, Massachusetts is deftly believable.  Russell's fluidly technical authorship of both boxing and dysfunctional family dynamics is extremely well conceived.  Additionally, the training sequences are highlighted by a practically realized, choreographic arrangement.  The decision to provide a more 'realistic' boxing approach to the matches -- by enlisting the real life commentators and by employing a more simplistically styled cinematic fighting exchange—was a Tiger Woods level stroke of genius.   
       An ardent boxing fan, a casual moviegoer, a science fiction geek, a definitively prim girl, and an obsessive film lover all unanimously agree that The Fighter delivers a "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out" style knockdown. Since Aronofsky's The Wrestler. The Fighter is the best sports film in the last five years, though it's dramatic ingredients qualify it as more of a compelling, character-focused drama.  The outpouring of uniform praise for The Fighter solidifies it as a must see film and is a testament to its exceptional depth.  Not merely a heartwarming, though at times painfully depressive film, The Fighter will be remembered as a stylized display of both a character and location-driven tale of real life people with real life issues.   

9 out of 10

* If your still unsure of watching The Fighter, check out this trailer.

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