The Fighter (USA, 2010, David O. Russell)
I liked this film a lot more than I thought would. I went into it having just seen True Grit 20 minutes prior and I presumed that it would be a disappointment after that completely successful Coen confection. Plus, a TV ad for this film had flashed before me and I thought to myself that I needed to see yet another Rocky not too much at all. Not that I don't like Rocky (not enough to bother with Stallone's own sequels, that is), but who wants to see somebody else's sequel or prequel or equal or whatever? Add the fact that the somebody in question is Mark Wahlberg... I mean, ever since Boogie Nights I have forgiven him for once being Marky Mark of the supposedly Funky Bunch. And him being an executive producer of In Treatment raised his profile in my view. And he was perfectly alright in The Italian Job, The Departed, et cetera. Even so, The Fighter? - didn't want to know.
Well, it is not at all one more go around with Rocky and Wahlberg's work is solid for its measured restraint in keeping with the character. It is also commendable for its modesty. For the acter generously allows his co-star, Christian Bale, to take centre stage, also in keeping with his character. No doubt, it is this performance that is generating all the award buzz for the film. It is certainly a very good piece of acting. Melissa Leo as the mother turns in a great characterization as well. But the film is ultimately an ensemble effort and this too is appropriate for the story and what makes it not at all Rocky.
The Fighter is a misleading title for the film. It really should be called "The Fighting Family." For it focuses not on a single individual boxer and his ambition, but rather on the difficult interpersonal dynamics of a family whose entire well being is investing in excelling at the sport. On this topic, The Fighter enters into the socio-economic and cultural context conditioning the family with considerable depth. There are definitely Hollywood aspects to the film and certain consessions are made for dramatic expedience. Nevertheless, the film is based on actual events in the lives of real people and it does not glorify these folks. What makes them worthwhile for us are their all too believable individual failings and dysfunctional relations. That the story ultimately resolves with triumph, reconciliation and affirmation is legitimately earned. Hence, for example, the use of classic rock and roll tracks to underscore certain scenes does not feel like a cheap device. It feels damn right for these working-class, Irish louts who dare to be the "pride of [economically depressed] Lowell" not just once but twice, and pull it off even bigger and better the second time.
What makes this film not-Rocky, then, is its completely communitarian ethic. Given my own political values, I find it gratifying that Stallone's individualistic Horatio Alger tale is a fiction, whereas the social fabric that is celebrated in The Fighter is grounded in fact. Whether or not the film does as well in its professional competition for an Oscar as its subject did in his professional competition for the welterweight championship is anyone's guess. But I can see why The Fighter is being considered for awards. Not that I think it's so great. But it's much better than the 2004 Oscar-winning boxing movie, Million Dollar Baby, which squandered it's own interpersonal drama and working-class insights - refreshingly on behalf of a female in that sport - for a sappy sermon about euthanasia.
Here's the trailer: