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Majestic Preview: The Fighter

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This is a trial post for a possible tie-in with my local theater, the Majestic.  Learn about Wayne’s community-operated theater here.

Showing at the Majestic for February 17th to February 20th is David O. Russell’s The Fighter.

The Fighter presents the story of real-life boxer Micky Ward, who won the WBU’s Intercontinental Light Welterweight title in 2000.  Mark Wahlberg plays Ward, while Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams also headline.  The film has been nominated for seven Academy Awards and Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both won Golden Globes for their supporting roles.

This is a classic boxing underdog story set in Lowell, Massachusetts.  While similar films from Rocky to Cinderella Man tend to focus on the individual boxer’s struggle, The Fighter gives way to a rollicking account of a socioeconomically-disadvantaged family coping with addiction.  While Wahlberg plays the protagonist, both Leo and Bale carve out plenty of attention with their flashy parts, playing Wahlberg’s bother and mother, respectively.

The standard mileposts one finds in a heroic sports movie are also there: the agony of mediocrity and failure, the internal in-fighting, the slow enlightment of the protagonist as he learns his life lessons, and the eventual climb to the top.  The ending isn’t over-wrought with emotion, but all the more satisfying due to its basis in reality.

Wahlberg is in danger of being lost in the shuffle of action in the film, and most performers would suffer under the disadvantage the role has put him in.  Wahlberg, who has had a surprising run of good comedic performances in the past year, becomes a master of negative space, content to provide a point of purchase for the plot and performances of others.  We may not learn much about Micky Ward, but he’s the most obvious character we can relate to in the film and without his nuanced performance, we might not care.

Christian Bale is the sort of actor to whom I have almost a knee-jerk aversion.  I can’t help but see him as a flouncer trying to engage the cheap seats, while being chronically incapable of laughing at himself.  Given this, one can imagine my surprise at how impressed I was by Bale.  He’s given license in a supporting role to go all out and this suits Bale’s ability perfectly.  I suppose it’s better to be right 10% of the time.

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams tackle less-than-glamorous roles.  One expects this of Leo given her recent work, but to see Adams step away from a princess role is refreshing, even though she can hardly be heard through the tempest of Leo and Bale.  While I can’t recall Leo’s work before Frozen River, she’s clearly showing an entire generation of female actors how to disappear into roles with real depth.  Leo’s facial expressions also remind the viewer that acting is more than just reading lines.

Perhaps the aspect of The Fighter that won me over was how effectively it put me into a time and place, in this case a run-down neighborhood in the mid-1990s.  It’s a real shame that The Fighter didn’t get any awards recognition for its costume and make up work, which capture all the worst styles of the era.  While watching this film, try to take in the sets and costuming, which are serving the film in a less-perceptible way.

See Also…

Like Melissa Leo in The Fighter and want more?  Try the gritty drama Frozen River (2008).

For struggles with addiction and functioning within one’s vocation, The Fighter shares many similarities with Half Nelson (2006).

Another recent film that uses an urban place to great effect is the comedy City Island (2009).

The most classic boxing film ever made is, debatably, Rocky (1976).  For a boxing film that is structured more as a character study, one can’t go wrong with Raging Bull (1980).

Written by Bill

February 14, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Posted in Movies

Tagged with ,

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