By Greg Elperin
Before I saw The Fighter, I was ready to dismiss it as another variation on one of my least favorite Oscar bait archetype: the sports underdog movie.
Luckily, what I got instead is a bolder and rawer movie than the advertisements made it look like, with some standout performances and a distinctive filmmaking style.
The movie is shot in a way that almost looks like a documentary, with less emphasis on production values and more on intimate character interaction. The style suits the movie well, giving everything an added sense of realism and making the drama more tense and personal.
On top of that, the camera-work paints a genuinely bleak picture of a family stuck in a working-class Massachusetts slum.
The movie follows half-brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and their family, as one tries to make his name as a boxer and the other tries to reclaim it.
Bale once again proves how far he’s willing to go for a role. He’s the thinnest he’s been since The Machinist, playing a delusional has-been who destroyed his career with his crack addiction. The character is equal parts charisma and desperation, and Bale plays the part brilliantly, earning every bit of his best supporting actor nomination.
Wahlberg, on the other hand, is the most fit he’s ever been, and gives a cleverly understated performance. The chemistry between the two half-brothers is the highlight of the movie, and every scene featuring them together stands out.
The boxing is the best I’ve seen in almost any movie. It’s fast, visceral, and intense, offering a nice change of pace from an otherwise slow but gripping movie.
However, viewers looking for an entertaining action flick should be warned: this isn’t a fun movie. It’s a mostly sad film that has as much to with desperation as hope. Sometimes it’s downright difficult to watch, but that less of a criticism and more of a compliment to the talent involved for crafting such a real and gritty drama.
If you don’t mind your sports movies a little dark and unpleasant, you’ll be treated to a sharp script and a talented cast all delivering their finest.