Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Fighter Movie Review

There have been very few outstanding movies starring Mark Wahlberg recently. Arguably, he hasn't seen much success since The Departed in 2006. 2010 saw him in three movies, two of which were sub-par "B" movies. Despite those two setbacks, he ended the year on a strong note with one of the best performances of his career: "Irish" Micky Ward in the biographical drama, The Fighter.

The Fall of Dicky Eklund
The Fighter chronicles the life of two professional boxers, older half-brother and mentor Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and the aspiring Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), during a period of turmoil within the family. Bale's character, who dealt with a severe bout of drug addiction following a traumatizing defeat - trauma so severe that the disgraced boxer compulsively denies the fact that he ever lost. Instead, he seemingly fools himself into believing he is still championship material - and has fallen down the ladder of success into obscurity. However, he spotted a glimmer of hope for redemption through the innate ability of his younger brother. Needless to say, his addiction to drugs and prostitutes fails to subside even after multiple imprisonments. This obsession to earthly pleasures oftentimes leaves Dicky too preoccupied to remember appointments made to train his younger brother, and the resulting sense of neglect felt by Micky triggers the notion that he perhaps might find a better path to success where his family is not included.

The Rise of Micky Ward

Director David Russel does an excellent job of conveying Micky's emotions; though some may disagree, Wahlberg's ability to emote seems genuine in this film. Onscreen, he almost seems to harbor a personal connection with the character - he looks completely natural being out of place. Before long, he befriends the eye-candy bartender Charlene Fleming (deftly played by Amy Adams who steps away from her usual less serious characters for this movie). Micky's relationship with Charlene only furthers the sentiment that he should search for a different path to stardom. A stark contrast to Micky's blood relatives, she expresses concern for his desires, pushing him to become his own man throughout the film. While Wahlberg's character is typically the reserved type, the relationship he has with Charlene brings out a new side of him that is willing to rebel and take a stand against those who never allowed him to speak out. It is here that Mark Wahlberg truly shines. He makes an amazing transformation from a man who simply follows the established order to someone who is perfectly capable of making his own decisions. At the same time, the status quo reconstructs itself according to his standards. Though faced with loss after loss under the management of his assertive mother, his break with the family propels him to heights never before imagined at which point Wahlberg's approach to the character is drastically modified; he is willing to argue and rebel against his family in situations where, earlier, he would have taken a one-word command and let it control him.

Lovers, Not Fighters?

Perhaps the least convincing aspect of the narrative here is the reaction of Micky's family to his decision to cut them off. Initially, they become furious, even bringing the entire family to Charlene's house where the aspiring boxer was staying and causing a scene that, surprisingly, did not draw the attention of neighbors. Their radical approach seemed firmly ingrained in each of their psyches, yet by the end of the film, they all came to support Micky without any real stimulus to do so. After years of never taking time to ask for Micky's opinion, when the boxer found success without their aid, they all instantly seemed to care about his desires, a fairly shallow development. The family only seems interested in success, yet they gave off the feeling that they actually cared about their son by the end without a major confrontation between the two opposing views. The change in Dicky's character is far more believable and owes a lot to Christian Bale's superb performance. Though Dicky's addiction keeps him from training Micky, it never affects the devotion he has for his brother's success. Still, he finds it difficult to escape a life of sin until after being arrested again for impersonating a police officer, battery, and theft, among many other charges, all for the sake of raising money for his younger brother. The fallen star is imprisoned and finally reforms himself after viewing a televised documentary which reveals to the world the secrets of his drug addiction and lifestyle. This broadcast opens his eyes to the type of person he became because of his lifestyle. Though the resolution seems forced for the majority of the family, circumstances merit all of Dicky's behavioral changes and the family enjoys both domestic tranquility and stardom into the early 2000s according to the afterword displayed after the last scene. 

The Shadow of a Star

Wahlberg's characterization of Micky Ward speaks to the audience indirectly - especially in the early parts of the film. Wahlberg's countenance and body language says in a nutshell what words don't. Micky is quiet, strong but passive, agreeable and disappointed. Had the script relied more heavily on the spoken word, the effect of Micky's transformation would have been significantly less impressive. But to pull off characterization without words, an actor with capable talent is required - something one might not have expected from Wahlberg with his last great movie, The Departed, having been released four years prior. Despite it all, Wahlberg truly pulls out of his shell for this one (ironic, considering his character was heavily introverted). By contrast, Bale's character is characterized through his over-the-top attitude. Whenever his family finds him in a crack house or in a building known to house prostitutes, he makes his grand escape through the nearest window with seemingly no regard for his physical health. His attitude overtakes all - even Wahlberg. While it's to be expected from a star of Bale's grandiose, its disappointing to see Wahlberg in one of his best performances overshadowed by a supporting character. Admittedly, while they play two vastly different roles, Bale's performance overtakes Wahlberg's, an indisputable fact that weighs heavily on the recognition Wahlberg will receive for this film. But regardless of the aptitude of others, Wahlberg managed to hold his ground with a solid performance.

Final Words

While The Fighter likely won't be seen as a classic, it's definitely one of the most worthwhile flicks to hit theaters in the last few months. There are solid performances around the table from all the actors and actresses, including Amy Adams who seems miscast for this role but pulls it off nicely. The story moves smoothly and the characters are, for the most part, fleshed out well enough to keep anyone engaged from start to finish.

Story: 8
Acting: 10
Script: 9
Wow Factor: 7
Overall: 85%