The Fighter (2010)

08 February 2011

Guest review: Srini S. is based in India. 

The Fighter is a sports movie and a family drama, but is not a compelling film on either front. However, since it is based on true events, I can only question the belief of the filmmaker in the merit of the story as it is presented in the film.

Micky (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky (Christian Bale) are boxers. Dicky, the elder one, is a legend of sorts, having won against a formidable boxer in the past, but currently is a drug addict squandering his life. He coaches his younger brother who aspires to win a professional title. Their mother Alice, an ambitious woman (played excellently by Melissa Leo) is Micky’s sports manager.

Micky idolizes his older brother, who, in spite of his wayward behavior, is the person key to whatever progress he has made in the sport. Alice willfully overlooks Dicky’s drug problem in a “my son can do no harm” way and shows a faith in him that only a mother can have for someone like Dicky. As well meaning and ambitious as they are, Dicky and Alice make poor decisions in choosing opponents for Micky to fight against. Whatever bitter realizations Micky has as a result of this are only reinforced by his girlfriend (a bar girl, played by Amy Adams). Alice also has seven daughters and they play no role other than behaving in a petty way. Their father is a submissive person in contrast to their mother.

The family and social setup (essence of a small neighborhood captured well) is probably the most interesting aspect of the film. However any conflicts that rise due to this are not let to develop into anything serious enough or dramatically interesting. The growing bitterness between the brothers or the thorny presence of a girlfriend (who offers to help Micky professionally if he disassociates from his mother and brother) in a close-knit family are all quickly deflated to accommodate for a “triumph of the underdog” plot.

The boxing matches and the practice sessions are more Rocky than Raging Bull. That is not to say that they are uninteresting as a result of this. In fact, they are shot very well and they build up sufficient anticipation and tension.

However the stuff that goes on outside the ring adds little to this, and as a result, the overall impact is minimum. For instance, during a thrilling match (and a key dramatic moment), Micky realizes that he has to abandon his game plan (he goes with a different coach on his girlfriend's insisting when Dicky serves a jail sentence for unlawful behavior) and go by what his brother had taught him always to win that match. But what follows this scene is not a difficult clash of egos, but a simplistic solution where all major conflicts are instantly resolved.

Acting wise, everyone does a good job. Mark Wahlberg effectively conveys the burden of his family on him and Christian Bale as a loose cannon is fun to watch. Melissa Leo is equally comfortable in her role as a dominating wife and an ambitious mother. Unfortunately, all the good acting cannot lift this film up from being ordinary.