If you’ve seen one sports story, you’ve seen them all. Most are based on an actual event and follow the same formula: a mediocre player/team accomplishes the unexpected and reaches his/their goal despite the odds surrounding him/them. The Fighter is merely another in a long line of movies exactly like this. To immediately write it off because it’s formulaic, however, wouldn’t be fair. What matters is how well it’s carried out and this one is done well enough to deserve a look.
The story begins in the early 90’s where we meet Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a down on his luck boxer who is waiting for his day to shine. His brother and trainer, Dicky (Christian Bale), now a washed up fighter and crack head, is a local legend for hopping in the ring with Sugar Ray Leonard and knocking him down in his heyday. However, Dicky, along with his family, is inadvertently holding Micky back. After an encounter with the police, Dicky ends up in jail, which eventually allows Micky to begin his rise to fame.
If experience has taught me anything, it’s that a great performance can fool people into thinking that the movie surrounding it is something special. In 2008, critics claimed The Wrestler one of the best movies of the year, praising Mickey Rourke for his outstanding performance. The problem is that Rourke was better than the movie itself, which suffered from pacing and story issues. The Fighter is largely the same. It’s true that Christian Bale is positively wonderful as Dicky and should be nominated for an Oscar, but that doesn’t negate the rest of the film’s flaws. Those who have seen The Fighter are elevating the overall picture well above where it should be, but aside from the acting, there’s nothing particularly unique that stands out. We’ve seen this movie before, straight down to the montage(s) where the athlete works out and readies himself for competition.
To call the movie great is an overstatement, but that’s only faint criticism when considering the talent behind it. Bale, for instance, flawlessly embodies Dicky. I was wrapped up in his performance the entire film, but it was when the credits rolled around and I saw and heard the actual Dicky that I began to realize how spot on he really was, perfectly capturing his mannerisms and voice. The Dicky character is a lout, an annoying, smug little oaf that I would never want to hang out with, but that was precisely the goal, so credit is due. Wahlberg is no slouch either, redeeming himself from his one note performance in The Other Guys where all he did was yell the entire movie.
But it’s Amy Adams, who plays Micky’s love interest, who brings out the best in Wahlberg. She is beautiful and loving as always, but she has an edge to her here and isn’t afraid to get down to the nitty-gritty. She trash talks, threatens and even beats one of Micky’s sister’s faces in and I still adored her. That’s quite an accomplishment. The chemistry she produces with Wahlberg is as authentic as any onscreen couple this year.
When the film finally gets around to the actual fighting, it’s thrilling and realistic. The visual quality of the fights dips to get that authentic television feel and it works wonders. So despite knowing exactly how it will end, The Fighter manages to remain suspenseful while also providing enough character development so you’ll care whether or not Micky wins the title prize. I may have seen this movie before, but it remains entertaining, so that counts for something.
The Fighter receives 3.5/5