Man, this Awards season is going to be tough! The Fighter, the only other film I needed to see that is also nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes, is another strong contender to win big this evening. You may complain that Hollywood don’t make enough good movies, but the ones on show tonight are some of the best films I’ve seen in a while. The Fighter is the more Awards friendly movie for one sole reason, it’s a boxing movie. Boxing movies always seem to do very well when it comes to awards season (see Rocky, Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby for prime examples). The reason they do so well is because most boxing movies are excellent, God knows I’m a huge fan. That’s because there is a certain crowd pleasing element to them, and The Fighter doesn’t stray too far from the formula that makes movies like this successful. But it does offer a unique view on the boxing world that more than makes it stand on its own.
The film tells the true story of Welterweight Boxing Champion Micky Ward (Mark Whalberg), who hit the big time in the 90’s. But it wasn’t all plain sailing to the shot of a lifetime, it never is. Through the film we are shown the relationships in Ward’s life, focusing on his very large family and particularly with his brother and trainer, Dickie (Christian Bale), who used to be a very promising boxer before turning to a life of drugs. We see the conflicts that take place in the family and the struggles Micky has with trying to decide where his loyalties should lie. He’s a man who doesn’t want to hurt anyone (which is a tad ironic for a boxer), but realises that sometimes he’s just got to do what is best for him. It takes the title shot, and a stint in jail, to turn his brother around and bring everyone together to help Micky take on the biggest opportunity of his life.
There’s no prizes for guessing how this one ends, as is the same with most uplifting sport movies, but what takes place before the final bout is what you watch the movie for. It is extremely familiar territory, but The Fighter does come at it from a unique perspective. There hasn’t been a boxing film this driven by the structure and influence of the family life that Micky has. It certainly is a large family, with a seemingly endless amount of sisters, but it’s the two brother’s of the family who gain the attention. Micky is lost in the shuffle at times and has had to deal with the shadow of his brother, who once went toe-to-toe with Sugar Ray Leonard, not the least helped by his mother who always thinks she knows best for her son, never caring about what he thinks. It’s through Micky’s love with bartender Charlene (an impressive and tough Amy Adams) and the revelation of his brother’s arrest that gives Micky the push to take charge of his own life.
The relationship with Dickie is the most interesting aspect of the story, two brothers who obviously care for one another, it’s just that one of them is totally self-destructive and threatens to take his brother with him. Despite Dickie being completely off the rails and responsible for nearly ending his brother’s career at one point, you’re willing him on to change his ways, as ultimately Micky needs him to be all he can be. A very important reason that this relationship developes convincingly and naturally on the screen is due to the two lead performances from Mark Whalberg and Christian Bale. Whalberg has never been better, playing a tough, noble character who (as clichéd as it sounds) really does have a big heart to go with the muscle. He’s physically convincing as a boxer and you can really feel his commitment to this project through his touching performance, and the fact he’s been with this film from the very beginning of development, taking it on himself to see this film made with director David O. Russell (this film marks their third collaboration following I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings). But the man who’s going to get the most award buzz and will, and should, more than likely win Best Supporting Actor in most categories is Christian Bale. It is yet again another performance in which Bale has radically changed his physical appearance, the skinny, balding build of Dickie is miles away from the bulk of Batman. It is also an incredibly tense (trademark Bale) performance but one that is importantly fuelled by the heart. Despite his destructive actions, his intentions are, for the most part, good, and Bale never over plays the role giving one of his most memorable performance in a career of many.
Director O. Russell isn’t trying anything too flash here, drawing obvious inspiration from great boxing films such as Rocky and Raging Bull. This movie fits very nicely in the middle of those two pictures, having the personal aspect of Raging Bull with the uplifting and fulfilling experience of Rocky. And of course, there is always room for a training montage. The fights are shot in the same style as HBO coverage, presenting a realistic experience that’s not quite as soaring as the Rocky fights, but just as hard-hitting. It’s the least ambitious of the fellow nominee’s, which may work in its favour at the end of the day, but it doesn’t need to be, as it relies on powerhouse acting and an engrossing dramatic story that should appeal across all audiences. Either way, no matter how well it does with awards, we have another classic boxing drama here that is surely this generations Rocky. Just don’t go expecting Whalberg to be taking on a big Russian in The Fighter 4 anytime soon.