For a man who isn't the biggest fan of the sport, I find it truly amazing and strangely fascinating to see films about boxing always, seemingly, dominate the award season. As far back as 1931 when The Champ nabbed a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards we've seen the likes of Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Ali, Cinderella Man and Raging Bull practically guaranteed to be Oscar fluff. And why is that? Like or hate the sport, everyone loves a good underdog story, or tale about redemption, or drastic falls from grace, or real life icons immortalised on the big screen. The latest entry to the fold, The Fighter promises practically all four of these qualities. However, it unfortunately just fails to deliver.
The film tells the true story about former professional boxer, 'Irish' Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The story centres around Ward's faltering career, reluctantly fighting duff matches through his mother's almost suffocating management. All the while, his eccentric and troubled brother, Dicky is filming a documentary about his crack addiction, unbeknownst to his family who believe he's simply documenting his much touted comeback.
Save for two remarkable performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, I found the first half of The Fighter largely unremarkable, feeling it had as much cinematic merit as a high budget TV movie. Then suddenly it hit a specific half way point, when the audience and his family see Dicky's documentary for the first time and the hype of Bale's contribution and dedication to this role suddenly became justified. It was as truly heart-wrenching and grizzly as Micky Rourke in 2009's, The Wrestler, or superficially Bale's turn in the mind-bending film, The Machinist.
Mark Wahlberg's Ward was a very easy character to relate to, he was, quintessentially, a working-class family man. Ultimately wanting to do right by his mother and brother, while wanting to impress his new girlfriend and give his daughter a better life. These admirable qualities are compounded by a tentative naivety and being bullied into doing whatever his family feels he should do. His coming of age, underdog tale is what humanises this gritty film.
Though the film's two leading men deserve the plaudits, the two supporting ladies equally deserve the same. Melissa Leo was brilliant in her almost devious and tragic turn as this ageing, money grabbing old crone who rarely shares the love between her sons as evenly as she does her absolutely repulsive daughters. While Amy Adams shows her clout in the role as Ward's girlfriend. Slightly different for Adams, from the sweet, kind-hearted characters she's taken on over the years.
Where The Fighter stumbles, for me, is in director, David O Russell's lack of cinematic vision on the tale, really bereft of any genuine iconic moments and emotional grandeur for the occasion. If it hadn't of been for the larger than life performances the film would have wilted away into the background, as oppose to surprisingly appearing on nomination lists at the Golden Globes, Oscars and BAFTAs.
In truth, these accolades almost hinder the film's enjoyment and is probably best appreciated when forgetting it's going up against the likes of Black Swan, The King's Speech, Toy Story 3 and Inception.
The Fighter very nearly delivers on all the themes it tries to cover - reminiscent of all the boxing films past - but ultimately results in a film of two halves. It simply opens too slow and sluggish for my own tastes, but the beautifully acted second half more than makes up for it, as Wahlberg's journey from fame to shame to fame again is heightened by one of the defining performances of Christian Bale's career. The supporting turns from Adams and Leo add to this emotional working-class tale about family bonds and personal redemption. Enjoyable but there's similar films out there, which are better. Much better.
The Fighter is in cinemas everywhere now.