Monday, 31 January 2011

Film Review: The Fighter

I don't really know what to make of Mark Wahlberg. On the one hand he's behind some very successful, and indeed excellent TV shows, notably Entourage and Boardwalk Empire. On the other, he's starred in some fucking awful movies. The less said about Planet of the Apes, Max Payne and The Happening, especially The Happening, the better. But while The King's Speech may currently be winning all the plaudits of critics touting it film of the year, The Fighter may very well prove one of its main contenders to the prize.

The Fighter follows the true story of famous Welterweight Micky Ward (Wahlberg), charting his rise to fame against the odds of family politics, poverty and a junkie half-brother (Bale) clinging to past glories, who also happens to be his trainer. So far, so typical then, given most boxers appear to arise from similar circumstances. Hell, Rocky may as well be a documentary. The comparison to Rocky then is naturally inevitable. It's impossible to hide; this is pretty much Rocky for the twenty-first century. Yet, while it might appear to tick every cliche in the book - the rousing assembly of a rags-to-riches, triumph-over-adversity, final-showdown sports story amidst the backdrop of a poverty-stricken background - The Fighter actually pulls all these off with added gusto.

As we've come to expect from the big bad bat, Bale is excellent, and it will willy hardly raise eyebrows if he picks up an Oscar for his portrayal of Dickie Ecklund. Once again Bale has morphed his body for the role, dropping from the 86kg mound of muscle he was in Batman to 66kg for the role of Dickie. But this film really belongs to Wahlberg. This not merely a story about fighting in the ring, but of how Ward fought against the inhibiting influences of his family and the lack of opportunities in his dead-end town, Lowell. Given his past, maybe he identified with the circumstances Ward had to deal with, and indeed, there is an air of vulnerability as he slides effortlessly into the role. But moreover, even amongst the shit that Wahlberg has been in, gems do sparkle to prove what a good actor he actually is.

It would be difficult not to feel conflicted if Bale picks up an Oscar at Wahlberg's expense. But while sparks fly from Bale's dazzling performance as Dickie, it is Wahlberg that remains the understated and incandescent star that burns brightly right until the end. The Fighter doesn't do anything new for the underdog sports movie, it stands out from the crowd on account of two brilliant, if not entirely different performances which, together, make it impossible not to enjoy.