Hardly a Contender

Review by Spencer Gordon
Photo provided by The Fighter

The Fighter
Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo
Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence, and sexuality

The Fighter is a film surprising everyone by coming out of nowhere and gathering Oscar momentum. Not only is the movie getting buzz for a best picture possibility, but director David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings) and supporting actors Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo are also getting serious attention as possible contenders. I’m here to tell you that the performances were all quite good, especially Bale’s. But despite their solid performances, the direction by Russell and the storytelling of screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson created a film that felt a lot like last year’s disappointing The Blind Side in how predictable and poorly inspirational the end result actually was.

The film starts off by introducing viewers to brothers Dicky (Bale) and Mickey (Wahlberg) living in their hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. Dicky has grown into somewhat of a hometown hero as he used to be a boxer and knocked down boxing legend “Sugar Ray” Leonard during his prime. Mickey, on the other hand, tries to hit his own stride as a professional boxer by making one last title run despite being close to retirement. Mickey’s career is managed by his family, which includes his six sisters, parents (Leo and Jack McGee), and Dicky as his main trainer and coach. However, Dicky has fallen prey to drugs that cause him to become almost nonexistent as a trainer. When Mickey starts dating a sassy bartender named Charlene (Adams), he begins to realize that if he really wants to rise to the top of the boxing world, his family might not be the best suit for him.

The film is able to provide some decent entertainment due to some great performances by everyone involved (except Wahlberg, who is his usual one-track-minded character). The movie showcases some exciting and realistic boxing fights as well as funny and cleverly-written dialogue (Bale, Adams, and Leo blurt out humorous one-liners most of the time). This film is gaining more and more momentum towards Oscar gold from Oscar predictors  and critics.But when I compare this film to the other likely contenders such as Black Swan, 127 Hours, and especially The Social Network, this film deserves to be at the bottom of the pile.

The Fighter had the ingredients to be good, but the simplest aspect to a good film (storytelling) turned out to be its major downfall. For starters, I couldn’t count how many times I said to myself, “We’re gonna need a montage,” the famous line coined by South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone. Sure enough, no more than ten seconds later the uplifting music started and Wahlberg started training. I was predicting dialogue and outcomes of his fights as well, despite never hearing this story at all.

Another poorly executed storytelling technique was the way the film actually handled its montages. Montages are found in all sports films, such as Hoosiers and Remember the Titans. They show how much work our protagonists are putting themselves through to reach their goal and you truly feel as if you are training and even progressing with them on screen. The montages in The Fighter are supposed to show Mickey’s progression as a fighter and how much better he is becoming, but the montages didn’t feel that way. If you look back on the film after viewing it, as a boxer it appears that Mickey is no better than he was at the beginning. Rather, the montages focused on emotional growth, using casual physical training to convey emotional improvement. Unfortunately, watching Mickey train for the millionth time didn’t do the trick.

I know the film will get multiple nominations, but I really hope that it wins only one or two Oscars, most notably for Bale’s performance as Dicky. I would argue that all of the critical acclaim and the statements like “Just as good as Rocky and Raging Bull” are extremely undeserving. Critics also say that this film showcases Massachusetts’ culture perfectly. If that means New Englanders have huge families that aren’t likeable and consist of individuals that have stereotypically over-the-top personalities, then Massachusetts doesn’t sound that appealing to me. The characters in the Boston-based movie The Town have more depth and likeability robbing banks and killing people than the caricatures in The Fighter!

To conclude, I do have to say that my dad might have ruined the little inspiration I felt from the film by telling me that Mickey was fighting in one of the least respected boxing leagues in the world, but it just supports my argument that maybe this story didn’t really need a movie.

Grade: B- for a poorly made inspirational sports film that’s saved by some great performances and realistic boxing matches.

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