The Fighter should have started off with one of these screens. It tells the story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother and lifelong idol Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) as Micky strives to become a champion boxer.
Everybody involved put in solid performances – the main characters, side characters, everybody. The characters you’re supposed to hate or find annoying were hated or annoying as people rather than as characters. It got you involved on an emotional level; rather than just waiting for their screen time to end, you really wanted to get up there and give them what they deserved.
Wahlberg’s performance was subtle and powerful. Even when he wasn’t speaking, or speaking lightly, or avoiding the subject, you could tell something else was wrong, that he had something on his mind. You could read his body language, his facial expressions. He didn’t even need to say a line, you knew what was up.
As for Bale, his performance was painful (not in a Nicolas Cage way). His character was so deeply flawed that it hurt to see him continue with the path his life was on. You felt so sorry for his situation and for the others trying so hard to help him and their suffering in turn. It was a serious departure from a friend’s longstanding complaints based on his two-note turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne.
The filming itself was impressive in its own right. My favorite scene in cinema comes from The Hustler, toward the end when Paul Newman goes into the pool hall to start off the climax of the film; it’s a wide shot, almost silent, no real action, and the tension mounts slowly until it is just shy of unbearable. The Fighter had a scene that held a similar impact on me, an amazingly tense confrontation between Micky and the rest of his family which almost made me feel like an intruder on someone’s life; I felt like I should leave the theater until they’d resolved their issues.
And, of course, the two things no boxing movie would be complete without – montages and fights! Sometimes even fight montages. The two main montages in the film were both standard time-passers (He trains! He boxes! Time passes!), but they also served two character purposes by splitting time between Micky and Dicky. It may have been done before, but I don’t watch many sports dramas, so it was new to me and I thought it was great to see the connectedness of their two lives and their two paths, even as they were on dramatically different paths. The fights didn’t really kick in until the end, the main focus having been on the drama, but when they did come around, they came around hard. Wahlberg filmed his own fight scenes, and some of them were so brutal that I wondered if the injuries in the scenes afterwards were makeup or not. The big final fight was so well done that despite the fact that Everyone Knows How It Ends, it managed to stay edge-of-your-seat tense, and when it was over, I was shaking with adrenaline and emotion.
All said and done, I give it an A+. And stick around for some spoiler-esque analysis if you’d care to.