Before I get into The Fighter as a film, I’d like to share some back story about my expectations for the film. First off, as I’m sure most all of you know, I live in a town called North Andover in Massachusetts that is about 15 minutes from Lowell, where Micky Ward grew up and where the movie takes place. Now North Andover isn’t nearly as blue collar of a town as Lowell is, but it does share many of the same characteristics. Both places seem much smaller than they are (people know and hear about everything), residents tend to stay in the area their whole life, families are large, passionate, and sometimes not too accepting of change, and while most everyone is nice, they can also be abrasive and aren’t known for outward friendliness. I haven’t always been a fan of some of these traits of my hometown area, and so while everyone was very exciting when The Fighter came out, I has hesitant to buy into the hype. I love the North Shore and the story of Micky Ward, but normally I watch movies to get away from what I see everyday, and The Fighter didn’t exactly fall into that category. Combined with my apprehension of Bale and Wahlberg being able to carry the film, while my friends all went to see The Fighter, I stayed away. This probably had to do with my natural inclination towards dissension, but I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to like The Fighter, despite my friend’s protest that I was just being stubborn.
Well after actually watching the film, I will be the first to admit that I was completely wrong. Not only was the film well acted and had a good A-storyline in Micky Ward’s boxing exploits, but I thought the best part was Bale’s portrayal of Dick Eklund and the accurate portrayal of Lowell personalities and life. For me Christian Bale has been hit or miss during his career and while I respect him as an actor I’m never as excited as most to see him star in films. I loved him in The Prestige and American Psycho, and think he is a good Bruce Wayne/mediocre Batman (no one can touch Kevin Conroy’s voice work); but I don’t think I will ever forgive him for ruining Terminator Salvation and egregiously overacting in Rescue Dawn. He is a better actor when he has a unique or flawed character to play, and Dicky definitely qualifies. He is a terrible influence and his crack addiction splits his family apart, but Bale’s goofy mannerisms and enthusiasm make him a lovable character despite his myriad of poor choices. One scene in particular where Bale excels is when the HBO documentary on crack is being shown at the prison. The quick shift from celebrity adoration to shameful anger shown by Bale is absolutely heartbreaking, and it is certainly one of his best performances.
The other excellent part of the film was its shot structure is consistent throughout the film and, in my opinion, matches the pace of an actual boxing match. Despite what many people think boxing is actually much more like a chess match than an MMA fight. It requires both strength and a whole lot of strategy as knockout punches are only achieved by preparation that starts rounds earlier. If you have ever seen a boxing match you would know they are actually fairly slow with both boxers slowing trying to breakdown the others’ defenses until they can unleash a fury of punches that will actually land. The Fighter mimics this by using a slower introspective pace, intercut with fast pace montage sequences that cover most of the action of the film. In the slower periods the film is heavy on close-ups, which provide excellent shots of facial expressions and reactions. This gives the viewer an opportunity to read the characters in their own way (similar to a boxer reading his opponent), and give the film even more of a personal family feel. When the movie needs to pick things up, it does so through a series of montage sequences that although sometimes a little too long, are very effective. This back and forth between slow and fast pace helps keep The Fighter fresh and makes it seem far less than 2 hours.
So despite my initial aversion to The Fighter, I have to admit that it is a movie worth watching. Even if you are not a boxing fan, don’t worry. The film is more about family than about pugilism, but make sure when you watch it you pronounce it with a Boston accent. It’s The Fightah not The Fighter.
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