17 December 2010

Review: "The Fighter"

If Mark Wahlberg receives an Academy Award nomination for The Fighter it will be thanks to his incredibly talented costars and his commitment to the project, which he joined as early as 2005. I applaud his transformation from Marky Mark, the rapper and underwear model, to Mark Wahlberg, the serious actor, but other than an undeserved Oscar nomination for The Departed (2005), he has done little to earn my admiration. The Fighter is a good film because of three outstanding performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. Both Bale and Leo give frightening and riveting performances. My problem with The Fighter is that I had no sympathy for Micky Ward, the real-life boxer portrayed by Mark Wahlberg. I found it very hard to cheer for a character who, while being a victim of his upbringing, is ultimately a a victim of his own poor choices. Wahlberg's performance left me feeling less than inspired. Like Ben Affleck, Mark Wahlberg seems to thrive when he is playing a character from Boston, or its environs. It becomes much harder to appreciate a performance when it feels familiar even when the character is unique. The Fighter is not unlike many other films based on real life events. We have seen characters from poor backgrounds fighting the odds and succeeding. I take issue with Micky Ward because he is content to be emotionally repressed by his mother and brother and turns down a fresh start. Despite three electrifying and powerful performances from its trio of supporting actors, The Fighter is an underwhelming and predictable film with a disappointing lead performance from Mark Wahlberg.

Micky Ward (Wahlberg) has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Dicky Eklund (Bale). In 1978 Dicky became the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts when he beat Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight. Their mother, Alice (Leo), who has nine children, has spent most of her life putting Dicky's needs first. She is abusive and controlling. Micky had always looked up to Dicky and wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a boxer. Now, Dicky is a crack addict and still a major influence in Micky's life. Micky has told everyone, including his daughter, that he is going to win a fight in Atlantic City. When his team arrives they are told that his opponent is unable to fight and that they have found a replacement. Unfortunately, the stand-in is twenty pounds heavier and beats Micky convincingly. Micky is then given an opportunity to get paid to train in Las Vegas, but he is too attached to his abusive mother and his brother. The one highlight in Micky's life is his girlfriend Charlene (Adams), a woman who has had her share of pain and believes Micky should put some distance between him and his family. When Dicky is arrested and put in prison Micky, with the help of his father George (Jack McGee), begins training again without interference from his mother and brother. Micky starts to win fights and eventually earns a chance to fight for the Welterweight Championship.

I would not say that I have any interest or knowledge when it comes to boxing, yet it seems to be a very popular sport to film. Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and
Million Dollar Baby (2004) all won Academy Awards. These three films have one thing in common: a thoroughly fascinating lead character. The Fighter, and Micky Ward, are hardly fascinating. Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, has a similar viewpoint. He calls the character unfocused. While Roger Ebert may have a greater respect for Mark Wahlberg, I agree that the character is one-dimensional. It is hard to believe, as an audience, that Micky Ward would be so devoted to a mother that shows such little interest in his well-being. Dicky, Alice and Charlene are such passionately envisioned characters that is hard to forgive the film, and screenplay, for making Micky feel so flat. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are more talented and have a greater range than Mark Wahlberg, but it is no excuse when he has been working on and training for this film for so many years. Personally, the film started on a sour note when the words "Based on a true story" appeared on the screen. It felt unnecessary and pretentious. There may have been a lot of heart surrounding the production of The Fighter, but the film fails to connect emotionally because of its unsympathetic lead character.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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