Originally Reviewed – 1/17/2011
I love me some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Seriously. Like ’em, love ’em, can’t get enough of ’em. The perfect combination of two already wonderful food stuffs, RPBC’s are a classic treat. So, imagine my delight when they started appearing in almost everything. First it was ice cream, next in breakfast cereals until finally, a couple of days ago, I discovered them in a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies at my mom’s house. At that moment I thought, “Damn, I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and all, but this is getting ridiculous. What’s next, peanut butter cup infused bananas”? But what did I do? Grabbed myself a couple, chomped down and enjoyed the heck out of them. In the end, even though I keep seeing that flavor over and over again, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s damn delicious. This is exactly how I feel about the boxing movie genre, and specifically its latest entry, The Fighter.
Much like the sweet confections mentioned above, the genre of boxing films all share a very similar plot and story arc. Tough guy comes from nothing, goes through a few trials and ends up on top where a) he then falls back down a precarious slope or b) the movie ends. While The Fighter follows the same predictable path of its predecessors, the film is helped by some well placed humor, a focus on family and some very fine acting.
The cast runs the gambit of acceptable to near brilliant. Mark Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, an up and coming boxer from the slums of Lowell, Massachusetts who’s looking for his next big break. Much has been reported of Wahlberg’s near four year preparation for the role and the hard work pays off as he certainly has the look and feel of a seasoned boxer. While his acting style is very by the numbers, Wahlberg does a fine if not unremarkable job in the title role. Also playing against type is Amy Adams, portraying a tough talking local bartender and Micky’s inevitable love interest. Adams also does a fine job in the part as it’s a relief to see her break away from the nice girl roles we’re used to seeing her in. High marks also have to be given to Melissa Leo as Micky’s mother and business manager. Winner of the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress this year, Leo tows the line between loving mother and tough manager effortlessly, giving the movie a much needed shot of freshness and originality.
Stealing the show, however, is the work of Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund, Mickey’s brother, trainer and closest confidant. Bale’s part is easily the most difficult of the cast as he not only has to connect with Wahlberg on a brotherly level but has to be unassumingly self destructive at the same time. Bale plays the part wonderfully, bringing a real honesty and empathy to the role. Dicky has the distinction of being the “King of Lowell” for his boxing career but has since fallen in the depths of a drug addiction that threatens to take down his whole family and the budding career of his brother. Dicky is easily the catalyst of the story and in hands of a lesser actor could have turned into a parody but Bale is pitch perfect in his portrayal. Bale actually just got himself a Golden Globe for his work and he is sure to a get an Oscar nomination in the next couple of weeks.
The story, however, runs very familiar ground. While I enjoyed the local flavor of Lowell and the connection between Bale and Wahlberg, the rest of the plot is standard boxing flick fare. Luckily, the screenplay is peppered with a surprising amount of humor that almost always works well, especially when Bale is on screen. Director David O. Russell directs his cast with startling insight into the working class toughness of this boxing family yet does so at the sacrifice of visual flair. This is a blandly shot film to be sure, but when you have a cast this good, that is more than forgivable.
All in all, The Fighter doesn’t break any new ground for the boxing genre but, much like those yummy peanut butter cups, it’s still a good time that pushes all the right buttons. There’s just something charming about the classic “everyman fighting against all odds” tale and that charm never gets old, no matter how many times you see it. In the case of The Fighter, this world weary tale is told with style, humor and excellent acting, giving the audience just enough nuance to elevate it beyond its clichés. While Rocky will always be the quintessential telling of this story, The Fighter has a few new tricks up its sleeve, mostly embodied in the work of Bale and Leo. Everyone else simply has to play to type supporting their great performances. To bookend this review with my candy reference, The Fighter is just like a pack of Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: while an attempt was made to slightly change the classic flavor, the end result is the same old candy we grew up loving, a taste that still stands the test of time.
Score – 80%