Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Fighter: Marky Mark and the Punchy Bunch

Marky Mark has assembled an all new funky bunch of volatile talent for this labour of love tribute to "Irish" Micky Ward, a champion face-thumper from working class Lowell, Massachusetts.

He's got his old mucker David O Russell (whose previous works include having a slanging match with Lily Tomlin and scuffling with George Clooney)behind the camera, one Christian Bale (also not renowned for a balanced temperament), and Amy Adams (who is a sweet angel and I will not listen to anyone who says otherwise).

With this much strong-minded talent on set, you would think that the movie's production would've degenerated into screeching rows and trashed lights, but apparently the whole thing ran disappointingly smoothly. So no hilarious on-set gossip or embarrassing tantrums to be aired. Suppose I'll just have to tell you about the film then.

Micky is an underachieving boxer living in the shadow of his family. He is managed by his overbearing harridan of a mother, surrounded by a gaggle of obnoxious sisters, and is trained by his former-pro half-brother Dicky.

Bale's Dicky (steady on...) is a force of nature on-screen. A local legend due to the fact that he knocked Sugar Ray Leonard down in a fight years earlier, he swans through Lowell like he owns the place, loved by all and basking in it. He is also a raging crack-head.

Bale is brilliantly watchable here, a far cry from the moody, broody schtick he sometimes descends into (witness his morose, one-note turn in "Terminator: Salvation"), as Dicky is an irrepressible, vivacious, footloose showman who means well but constantly fucks up. People will talk about Bale's weight-loss as if it is a gimmick, but this is a complex, heartfelt and entirely human performance which is sure to bag him the best supporting actor action-figure at the Oscars.

Bale's role is obviously the more showy and eye-catching, but Marky Mark is the stoic heart of the movie. One of those actors who is either brilliant or terrible from one movie to the next, Wahlberg excels as men struggling to express themselves. Micky is a lost soul, buffeted around on the whims of his domineering family, and the film covers his eventual realisation that he has to man-up in more ways than one. Wahlberg is overshadowed slightly by the colourful characters that surround him, but acts as the soulful anchor that grounds the film.

Amy Adams is Micky's trashy-yet-true girlfriend, helping him find his own voice amongst the squabbling cacophony of his family. She is confident and sassy and all that gubbins, but it is through her eyes that we see the vulnerability beneath Micky's muted exterior. It's a stock role, to a certain extent, but Adams makes it feel genuine and likable whilst delivering some snappy dialogue with aplomb.

Almost managing to steal the movie from her big-name co-stars is Melissa Leo as the matriarch of Micky's clan. Manipulative, aggressive, sentimental, violent and with ridiculously massive hair and stage-show make-up, she is a terrifying and formidable creation, made all the more frightening because she actually exists. She should probably win best supporting actress, if only for the scene where she sings "I Started a Joke" with Bale.

Marshalling these wild horses is Russell, a director known for making unusual and occasionally difficult films (his last effort, "Nailed", has yet to see the light of day), and this is him at his unfussy, accessible best. The film is raw and naturalistic, with a subtle kinetic creativity driving the camera. Russell often utilises the presence of a documentary crew following Dicky, or the sports-channel presentation of the fights, to further push the sense of realism. The film manages to feel personal and genuine whilst achieving crowd-pleasing, feel-good status without ever manipulating the audience or cheapening itself.

Rather than mawkish sentimentality or histrionic drama, "The Fighter" is surprisingly humourous. The ever-changing family dynamic leads to some hilarious character beats and Dicky's self-destruction and fumbling attempts to do right swing easily between comedy and tragedy.

Add a soundtrack laced with aging rock standards, and you have a potent dick-flick which has enough triumphant heart to break out of the mould marked "TESTOSTERONATHON" and satisfy a wide and ranging audience. Solid film.


  1. I wasn't planning on seeing this because I could care less about boxing and whatnot, but you actually won me over. I think I check it out. Good review!

  2. I have'nt gotten around to seeing it yet. It definitely piqued my insterest though. A friend of mine read Mickey Ward's autobiography and told me to check it ou. I know he was a local legend in the Massachusetts area. Dropkick Murphy's had a video for "The Warriors Code" with actual footage of Mickey. Your review has me sold, too. Now if I can just make the time . . .

  3. Unless he fights a massive Russian, I couldn't give a shit. Has Marky Mark left the gas on this time? Or how do you spell accommodation?

  4. Bale is just perfect in this role as Dicky, and deserves that Oscar, that he will hopefully finally get after all this time. Good Review!

  5. Thanks for another awesome review, I wasn't planning on seeing this either - not a big boxing fan... But now I'll be sure to check it out!

  6. Loved the title of your post. Probably will check out the movie too, btw.