Rudie Reviews David O. Russell’s The Fighter [Theatrical Review]

Sometimes the things that nurture and support you, are the same things that keep you down. Whether it be in your personal or professional life, these things serve to be a part of you. In the new film by David O. Russell, these things fester and loom as if it were slowly stalking you, ready at any moment to kill you. And trust me, there were times during this movie when I wish it did.

The Fighter is a ‘based on a true story’ film that surrounds the unlikely comeback of an aged boxer, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his drug addicted trainer, his brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). And really, The Fighter does successfully serve as an ‘against all odds’ sports movie and a compelling family drama. In Mickey’s family, the connection of family and boxing is a strong one. His brother is his trainer, his mother is his manager and his many sisters are his cheerleaders. But coming from a broken, dysfunctional family is just another average day for Mickey. But they all want what’s best for him, to someday win the world championship. But it won’t be easy, no matter how hard the film wants to let you believe it is. After all, Mickey is 31 years-old and that door is slowly closing behind him. He only has one chance to win it all.

Full of cliches and broad drama, The Fighter is just too standard of a film to get me excited. Maybe that’s its appeal or maybe that’s its burden. The Fighter feels like there’s a better movie in it but David O. Russell seems to want to cater to a wider audience (an audience that didn’t want I Heart Huckabees or Three Kings). Visually uninteresting and dramatically the best of The Lifetime Channel, The Fighter tries to out play its audience but ends up pandering to it. Even the element of Mickey’s inspirational love interest, Charlene (Amy Adams) seems to serve only as a check marks in a long list of ‘what it takes’ to win an award in this award season of movies.

The problem isn’t that The Fighter is a bad movie, the problem is that it’s simply a mediocre one. Nothing in it is horribly bad or overly good. It just seems too standard to get excited about. Sure Christian Bale’s performance is wonderful as Mickey’s crack addicted brother, Dickey. But what’s interesting about him? He overcomes his addict and once he does he never struggles with it. He conquers his demons in a far too convenient manner, deciding to eat a “welcome back” cake instead of smoking crack with his old friends. And this is our resolution to addiction? Sure, the boxing sequences are well shot. David O. Russell goes for a certain grainy, videotape technique and displays them as if we were watching the fights on HBO. But why not take it one step further and shoot the whole movie this way. Give it a HBO documentary feel circa 1993. It would possibly make Christian Bale and Melissa Leo’s (Mickey’s mother, Alice, who also delivers a great performance) performances an added level of realism. But that would also alienate a broad audience it’s trying to appeal to.

You really can’t blame the story though because it is ‘based on a true story’. There’s only so much you can do with the source material. My question is why should we care? As intriguing as real life is, why are these type of films so glossy and convenient? I don’t know if any one’s life is that glossy or slick or simply, that’s overly convenient. Although Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, which is ‘based on a true story’ gives far more interesting ideas on the human spirit and adversity. Maybe you should see that movie instead. That movie will surely be a ‘knock out’, unlike The Fighter which simply delivers a ‘draw’.

Grade: C+