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Netflix Review: The Fighter
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The FighterThe Fighter
Netflix Streaming
DVD | Blu-Ray
Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee
Paramount Pictures
Originally Released: December 10, 2010

The Fighter is a boxing movie, featuring Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward and a show-stealing Christian Bale acting as Ward’s brother, Dicky Eklund. Based on a true story, the film follows Ward’s rise in the sport, while focusing on the inner turmoil of his family members – but ultimately is a tale of fall-from-grace, resulting in deliverance and reconciliation.

The film opens with an HBO crew following Eklund, who believes they are following him for “his big comeback” in the ring. He lives for his wonder days of when he himself was boxing, and continually bringing up the time he took down Sugar Ray. In fact, the HBO crew is following Eklund for a different reason – they are making a documentary on crack addiction.

Ward’s family (especially mother Alice Ward played by Melissa Leo) and Eklund) are managing him and training him, but the inner turmoil of the family, and notably Eklund’s drug addictions, affect his direction. Instead of moving forward, Ward finds himself being preoccupied in shitty fights that have been poorly arranged; all the while hiding in the shadow of his brother being the man who took down Sugar Ray.

Things change when Ward, assisted by girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), voice anxieties about missed opportunities and problems within the family affecting his goals. Eklund asks his brother for one more chance, and aims to raise the money for Micky to train independently and fight professionally.

Eklund turns to crime to steal the money and in a chasedown progression (quite a compelling scene actually), is arrested and later imprisoned. This is the breaking point for Micky, who turns away from his brother and mother, and begins moving forward with his own goals and visions.

The story is, generally, interesting and entertaining – but for the most part feels misplaced. Our main protagonist, Mark Wahlberg’s character, should be the central person of the story. Wahlberg, however, for the most part, holds back and is simply “just there.” There is almost no character development for Micky Ward in this story, instead more of a situational development, as we watch him be helped move from a bad situation to a good one.

Christian Bale, on the other hand, should be the central chap in this film. He steals the show with a truly spirited performance, physically as well – with a smaller frame evocative of his appearance in The Machinist. The man completely disappears from the very moment The Fighter begins, and simply IS Dicky Eklund – through and through, body and spirit, balls to bones. It could be, perhaps, one of his finest accomplishments to date. Bale’s journey is far more compelling than Wahlberg’s in this film, and his performance is nothing short of pure brilliance.

Perhaps, though, this is precisely the point of the film. The title, The Fighter, doesn’t just refer to Micky Ward’s rise to boxing legend, but also pinpoints Eklund’s fall from grace, and redemption. Bale’s angst-ridden frame in convulsions during the drug withdrawal sequence is hypnotic and haunting, and his presence in the second half of the film makes him seem like a completely different man.

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg

The family ties start to crack and breakdown as the movie progresses, but this is part of the process of the story, as it is through both of the fighters that reconciliation between everyone can be achieved. If there’s a message here, it may be that one can help influence the closeness and stability of their family simply by the choices they make.

Melissa Leo puts in a remarkable show as Alice Ward – domineering and manipulative, though misguided even though her heart is in the right place. Amy Adams in contrast, puts in a stellar performance as the affirming Charlene, and for me, held this film up along with Bale.

The family in the film also consists of what seems like dozens of sisters as well. The bitchy and skanky incidents of mother and daughters are just ridiculous at times. They become overamplified caricatures of what reality probably was, done perhaps for comedic effect – but at times comes across as demented and unsettling, and takes away from the strength of the movie overall. I’m sure there are traces of truth bubbling in these moments, but they lack a genuine feeling and come across as thoroughly contrived. They add precisely nothing of impact to the story and it completely takes away from the other performances.

The Fighter has elements of a period piece, being set during the early 1990′s, but this is done without overdoing the look and feel of the time. You notice dated items from time to time, from the television sets, to the telephones, to the cassette tape rack on the wall; and the use of specific fashions is done not overzealously, but more as an accent on the sequences and scenes. This is a significant and commendable part of the movie.

For rock fans, the soundtrack is also very good, with music from Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith and more. Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” features importantly in a couple of places of the film, and is used at significant moments of the movie without coming across as clichéd or tacky.

I did like The Fighter. But I can’t help but be disappointed by it… because I wanted to LOVE it. You get a fervent feeling as the film progresses that there are several lost opportunities where there could have been very powerful scenes. Bale’s work and Adams’ work in this movie are totally worth seeing it; but when you see Wahlberg just “being there” in a role that comes across as ingenuous and does not compare to the achievements of Bale and Adams in the movie, it left me feeling disheartened. I wanted to follow Wahlberg and root for him in the boxing ring, but I found myself very disinterested in that attribute of the story, and wanting to see more of his brother’s journey.

So, is The Fighter any good? In a nutshell, yes. But believe me, it is Christian Bale who both saves and steals this show – and it is worth watching simply for that reason alone.

Overall Rating: 3½ out of 5

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