'The Fighter' (UK Release: 4 Feb '11)
Before 'The Fighter' built up a head of steam critically and commercially toward the end of 2010, both director David O. Russell and Christian Bale had been rather overshadowed by their respective on-set melees. Both share a tremendous passion for filmmaking, which has been prone to boiling over. With the success of 'The Fighter', those difficulties are now becoming a distant memory.
I was a little less enamoured with the film than most, although considering its real life beginnings, I still found it a fascinating character piece. Bale as Dicky Ecklund, a former professional boxer and now trainer for his brother, Micky Ecklund (Mark Wahlberg), in particular deserves all the plaudits he has received thus far.
It doesn't seem all that long ago that Wahlberg was playing an American sportsman fighting against all odds in 'Invincible'. Here, he is the up and coming Ecklund, who must overcome his overbearing mother (Melissa Leo) and his drug addled brother, in order to progress his boxing career. Amy Adams is also on hand as Micky's girlfriend, with a heartfelt desire for him to achieve his potential but an ability to be just as difficult as Micky's family.
As with all the supporting cast, Adams and Leo are fantastic, and both in the running for Best Supporting Actress at the forthcoming Academy Awards. My money's on Leo, with her maniacal brand of maternal love, to come away with the gong.
Boxing is simply a framework for 'The Fighter' - it's very much an exploration of the Ecklund family. And while the focus may be Micky, it's really the Dicky show all the way. Part of that is because of the stoic character which Wahlberg plays, contrasting Bale's extroverted performance as Dicky. But it's also to do with the redemptive story of Dicky, which even as someone who has an interest in boxing, is far more engaging than Micky's progression as a boxer.
I'm not entirely convinced that David O. Russell intended Dicky's story to be so much more engaging than Micky's and I was a little disappointed with his direction, with regards to the boxing. Micky's transformation and rejuvenation into top level boxer (both mentally and physically) comes across as far too easy, giving the film a sense of inevitability. And speaking of things coming too easy, credit must once again to Bale for another staggering physical transformation, which I assure you does not come easily at all, despite what some critics have said.
The final fight has nice touches like the use of feedback to give the viewer a sense of Micky's disorientation and being presented as slightly grainy footage to produce a televised feel. However, it lacks the drama befitting a story like 'The Fighter'. There's even a shot of two of the Ecklund sisters failing to properly connect with a "high five" toward the end, a symbolic mis-step. The filmmakers perhaps realised the weakness of their final scene and added an epilogue, which admittedly works rather nicely.
'The Fighter' is driven by tremendous performances throughout its cast, a feat which director David O. Russell should be applauded for. Unfortunately, he fails to maintain that standard for the boxing element of the film, which ends up falling somewhat flat. But 'The Fighter' isn't really about boxing, it's about the fascinating true life story of two brothers who spar both inside and outside the ring.
'The Fighter' is showing in selected cinemas across the UK now. Thanks go to fantasya for the .gif.