Monday, December 27, 2010

The Fighter

Spoiler alert-o-meter: There are more spoilers on Micky Ward's Wikipedia page than in this review.

The Fighter follows a long Hollywood tradition of sports movies. It uses the classic underdog-comes- from-behind sports-movie paradigm by showing the rise, fall, and rise of boxer Micky Ward. But The Fighter hinges on much more than this simple trope. To call this a movie about boxing does not do it service, and to say it’s a movie about brothers and the ties of families takes away from the fact that it’s also a riveting boxing movie and a fiercely anti-drug movie.

Shot in and around Lowell, Massachusetts during the very hot summer of 2009, The Fighter showcases my current home city. This fact alone might lend to my subjective take on the movie. We didn’t see any of the location shooting like we did for Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying, but often I’d see the arrow signs along Thorndike Street directing the cast and crew to that day’s location. Having a major Hollywood movie shoot in your town is like having your best friends crowned King and Queen of the senior prom. Mark Wahlberg, who stars as Ward, fought for the film to be shot on location. This is not simply a movie shot in Lowell, but features a story about characters born and raised here that could not be shot anywhere else and purport to be authentic.

The Fighter fully and perfectly captures the story of Micky Ward, his girlfriend, his family, and above all the relationship with his brother, Dicky. Christian Bale, who has played Batman and an American Psycho, made me forget all his previous roles. In The Fighter he becomes Dicky Eklund, Mickey Ward’s half brother.

The story starts in 1993, on the hot streets of Lowell. The title sequence alone is a killer, opening with shots of Micky and Dicky (hey, that rhymes) working on a road paving detail early one steamy morning. They’re playful while they spar and reenact Dicky’s knockdown of Sugar Ray Leonard from a 1978 bout. Micky’s a junior welterweight who hasn’t had a fight in a while, he retired in 1991 after four straight losses. He’s learned everything he knows from his brother Dicky, a former welterweight and “pride of Lowell.” But now Dicky’s a crack head, which makes him unreliable as a brother and trainer. But that doesn’t stop Micky from loving him, and believing in him.

Dicky is manic and delusional, thinking the HBO film crew that is following him around Lowell is there to document his comeback. The crew is actually shooting what would become the near-legendary (at least here in Lowell) documentary, High on Crack Street, Lost Lives in Lowell. When this fact comes to light over the course of the movie, it’s heartbreaking.

Micky’s a good boxer, but he’s in his early thirties and isn’t getting any younger. He wants to start fighting again. His mother, Alice (a blistering Melissa Leo), acts as Micky’s manager. Alice gets Micky in the ring again, but he ends up fighting a boxer who’s got twenty pounds on him and he suffers another painful loss.

He starts dating local bartender, Charlene. Amy Adams plays Charlene as a tough, sexy, college-educated woman who feels she never lived up to her potential after dropping out of college. She helps Micky see that being managed by a mother who is blind to Dicky’s debilitating drug use and who books fights based solely on the money may not be the best choice for his career.

If all this sounds rote, it’s not. Director David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey, Three Kings ) and executive producer Darren Aronofsky (who directed Black Swan and The Wrestler), and the many writers credited with the screenplay (including Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy) leaven what could have been an average or even at times depressing story with humor and a compassion for all the characters, including Alice, Micky and Dicky’s seven sisters, and Micky’s beleaguered, henpecked stepfather.

When Dicky is sent to prison on a number of charges, Micky starts training with Lowell cop Mickey O’Keefe (who plays himself!), a mentor and longtime friend. Micky starts surrounding himself with people who know what’s best for his career. He starts getting better matches, and starts winning. Micky’s style is unique in that he will take punch after punch, round after round, until his opponent lets his guard down. Then he pummels with combination punches to the head, body, head, body until the opponent drops.

We’re never told exactly why he waits so long in a match to strike, but maybe it’s better left unspoken. For a boxer, the character of Micky Ward as played by Wahlberg is a passive guy. He’s nice to a fault, loves his mother and his stepfather, half brother, and his many sisters. Almost to a fault.

But toward the end, as he brings his newly clean brother into his corner that already contains Charlene and Mickey O’Keefe, it’s obvious Ward’s strength lies in his quiet persistence and ability to arbitrate the many facets of his personal and professional life to work together for his benefit. As any sports movie must, The Fighter builds to a final competition. In this case the bout between Ward and British fighter Shea Neary, with the winner taking home the WBU Light Welterweight Champion.

More than a movie about a boxer, The Fighter offers riveting storytelling, great acting, and exemplary location cinematography. 


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Thursday, December 23, 6:45 show. Price $10.50. Viewed with Liz. Snacks--Water.

Coming Attractions:

Lincoln Lawyer. Based on the Michael Connelly novel. Matthew McConaughey in full-on serious lawyer mode. Co-starring Ryan Phillippe and Marisa Tomei.

Unnamed Alien Invasion Movie. The trailer cut off before they showed the name of it. Looks like District 9 crossed with Cloverfield. After a Google search (2011 alien movie), turns out it's called Battle: Los Angeles. Looks effective and frightening. 

Thor. Marvel Comics' Thor gets the big-budget treatment. With Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero, along with Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, and Anthony Hopkins.

No Strings Attached. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher play friends who end up sleeping together. And, I'm guessing from the plot twists exposed in the trailer, that he falls for her and she just wants the sex because she has a busy life as a doctor and doesn't have time for more? Could be cute, since the stars are both cute. Not sure Portman's made a rom-com like this.


Robin said...

Dell -- Another great review! This film is a must-see and also of interest since it was shot in Lowell. I'm looking forward to a whole year of your reviews.

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Robin!

Laurie Smith Murphy said...

Before I read your review, I wasn't planning on seeing another "boxer" movie, but now I've completely changed my mind. I want to see it! Thanks for a great review, Dell!

Dell Smith said...

I think you'd like it. And it could be a date night movie for you and your boyfriend.