My Ten Cents On: The Fighter

What is it with the Oscars and boxing movies? Raging Bull, Rocky, Ali, Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby and now The Fighter, another movie in a long line of boxing films that has contended for the spot of best picture during its year. How come these films keep cropping up, and taking the Oscars by storm? It all boils down to a simple formula, using your basic elements of literature: the plot of a comedy (a character goes from a low  place in society to a high one) + two-layered conflict (he seems to fight in a man vs. man plot but it turns out to be a man vs. himself plot) + great acting + great directing. BOOM. Oscar nominated movie. The Fighter is one of those films that follows this formula exquisitely.

Though the formula is simple in concept, it isn’t easy to execute. There are a lot of fail sports movies (Rollerball) out there, if not fail, then cheesy (Field of Dreams), if not cheesy, then heart-warmingly okay (Angels in the Outfield). And while some of these movies resonate with us (I can’t imagine my childhood without Angels in the Outfield), we can’t really call them Oscar-worthy, right? Anyway, my point is, while it may seem that a lot of boxing movies get on this list, it in no way diminishes the quality of this movie. But don’t take my word right now for it, allow me to break it down, then you can take my word for it! :)

+ The Acting

I tell you, Melissa, if I had known we'd be getting Oscar noms for this, I would have put off being a caped crusader with throat cancer a long time ago!

When you see Christian Bale here, you’d think he’s over the top at first, but I guarantee you, he, in this movie is the fine wine of acting, the further you get into this movie, the better he gets. The more you learn about the character, the more you appreciate him. His performance in this film is amazing, and what I love about it, is that it only becomes amazing once you’ve seen the whole movie. There are some times when you look at an actor’s performance from the start, and say, “This guy is awesome!” (Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, for example) and there are those that take time. Bale’s performance as Dick Eklund is the latter, and a fine example of it.

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams play the mother and girlfriend of Mickey Ward (played by Mark E. Mark himself) respectively. The two of them present a county bumpkin version of verbal chess as they vie for Mickey‘s affection, and fight for what they each believe is best for him, and its another fantastic thing to watch. Their relationship with each other, through Mickey, is one facet of the film that you have to watch out for. They’re both up for an Oscar, but you’ll see that the strength in their individual performances rests in the dialectic between the two.

+ Direction

Whenever you see people with Acting Oscar nominations, they are only responsible for a fraction of the honor. They had to be directed well, and they had to be shot well too. David O. Russell was a great director for these people.  He led the group of characters to tell a beautiful story. Unlike Darren Aronofsky in Black Swan, the strength here isn’t about accentuating emotion through atmosphere, but about capturing emotion in “reality”. He shoots the scenes like any person would see them, but he catches the emotions of the characters in the scene, and if this is supplemented with good acting, like it was in The Fighter, it makes for an amazing story.

+ The Story(-telling)

money shot

Yeah its not a story we haven’t heard before. Its inspirational, its moving, and its something that isn’t necessarily new. The difference is how they chose to show it.

Now, I know that in recent years, mixed-martial arts (MMA for short) has become increasingly popular in the main stream, and it has spawned several off-shoots, reality shows, amateur tournaments, and even a couple of movies.

not a money shot (well, there's probably a market for this SOMEWHERE)

But why is it that those movies are just so far from the quality of boxing movies, despite having so many similarities in the formula. Well its simple really. The MMA movies are all about the action, stunts and tricks. Its supposed to make you go “Ooooohhh” and “Aaaaahhh“, as the huge part of the movie. Whereas  the good boxing movies show the journey, the internal journey, and make the fights simply turning points and plot points along that journey. If anyone tells you Rocky is mainly an action movie, slap them in the face, because it is much more about Rocky‘s character development. There is a reason that Rocky Balboa is the only fictional character in the Boxing Hall of Fame. So, sidebar, you should watch that movie.

Anyway, to get back on track, The Fighter actually shows very little of Mickey Ward‘s fights. So don’t go in there expecting a punchfest. I would even say that the actual time of fights represents less than 10% of the full running time of the movie. The film tells so much about what happens behind the fights, in the hometown of Mickey Ward, and this view of the boxer’s world just makes the film that much more powerful.

Okay, now for the hard part, what I didn’t like about this film

– The Length

When I speak of “length”, I refer to how long it feels as compared to how long it actually is. Some movies are long, and go by in the blink of an eye, and some movies are short, yet seem to drag on forever. This movie is paced at a slightly lengthy 1 hour and 55 minutes, yet it does feel like it drags on a bit longer. There are a couple of redundant scenes here, they don’t really add anything new to the story, but they just seem to extend and reiterate what’s already been said. I won’t go too much into it, but I think you’ll see what I’m talking about.

– The Action

I know I said this movie isn’t about the fighting, and it truly isn’t. But when you have a movie about a boxer, you’d at least hope for some good-looking fights. In all honesty, the fights themselves were mediocre, and nothing really stands out as innovative or eye-catching. It was all generally forgettable. But hey if you want good boxing fights, you could check out all the other boxing movies I listed at the top.

My cents worth: 9/10

This movie is fantastic. It was a great experience to watch it, and I was hooked on the characters, and I felt for each one. I loved how there were no real villains in this movie, in the sense that no one had evil plans to destroy anyone else, and it was just their different views that caused such huge conflicts. This film did a great job of capturing a real-life situation, and re-interpreting very real people. It may not be the best bio pic ever, but it sure is one of the better ones. Though The Fighter may not be as iconic as some of the other boxing movies I mentioned above, I do think it deserves to be at least considered as a contender among those heavyweight greats, and only time will be able to show whether or not it deserves the shot at the title.


Posted on February 6, 2011, in Film Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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