The Fighter belongs to that rare breed of movies that are entirely generic, but for some reason or another manage to garner critical praise nonetheless. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie, but seriously, how many times am I expected to watch the underdog struggle to make a name for himself? More than that, am I seriously supposed to feign surprise when he does? I get it though folks, I honestly do. America loves an underdog story. Hell, now more than ever, with the economy in the toilet and Republicans and Democrats at each other’s throats (though that’s nothing terribly new) I understand the appeal of something to lift audience’s spirits. I understand how “inspirational” it is to have one of these kinds of success stories. What I don’t get is, why is this one special?
The “based on a true story” angle may be inspirational for some, but it just doesn’t cut it for me. I guess that’s my problem, but I’d much prefer a doc on this guy than watching Marky Mark stumble through yet another earnest hard-working, average joe performance. This actually brings me to my next point on the film that I was supposed to love. the performance of Christian Bale, while showing physical dedication, bordered more on caricature for me. His stumbling and slurred speech was supposed to paint a portrait of a guy down on his luck and trying to make things right again, but any sort of seriousness is undercut by a scene with Bale’s character jumping out a window to escape his overbearing mother. Not only does it distract from any emotional sincerity, but it forces me to question what sincerity there is in the first place? Dickie is a complex character and Bale’s performance reduces him to extremes of an unforgivable addict.
To me, the unsung heroes of The Fighter are the women. Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale are capable in both of their roles, but hardly worthy of all the praise which they have received. Both Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are faced with the exact opposite problem. True, both have been nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, but when forced to compete in the same category, both of their odds seem drastically reduced. Still, awards recognition isn’t the only thing at stake here. Leo’s portrayal as mother and manager to Dickie and Mickey is particularly memorable. She plays the part with such ferocity and dedication that echo a mother’s love. While she’s less than ideal material, her struggle between her two son’s love is just as compelling as Mickey’s rise to fame. On the one hand, it’s clear that she wants what’s best for her children, but she never seems entirely sure of what that is.
Amy Adams’ role in the film, as Charlene and Mickey’s love interest, is once again a return to standard fare. She’s the girl who stands in between Mickey and his family. As such, she faces the wrath of Mickey’s family when she finds herself at odds with his mother. The role is relatively tired, but Adams breathes new life into it. She’s a spitfire in every sense of the word, dedicated to Mickey and willing to do anything to make him into the fighter that she knows he can be. Normally this is the portion where I’d take issue with the female once again serving the man, but Adams shows such intensity and independence in a few key scenes that it becomes quite clear that she does things on her own terms.
All of these relationships are central to any emotional investment in The Fighter and unfortunately, that’s where the movie suffers the most. Ignoring the question “why should I care?” and supposing that I do, the movie’s pacing makes it difficult to do so. The movie covers a long period of time, so it would be difficult to show it all, but there’s got to be a better way of getting around it than what The Fighter does. Every so often a date will show up, indicating that time has passed, but there’s little to no recognition of any change. All of a sudden Charlene and Mickey are clearly in love when it seems like 15 minutes ago , they were on their first date. It may be a necessary evil, but The Fighter‘s pacing and uneven focus slows down the movie considerably.
In the end, The Fighter isn’t really a bad movie. It’s a far from perfect movie that’s managed to gain a tremendous amount of force going into the Golden Globes. I guess my obvious question is, why? I felt like I’d seen most of it before. Bale’s performance was memorable, but ultimately, it was borderline cartoon-ish in a way that distracted from any real heart to the movie. I guess if I have anything to say about this movie, it’s that, it deserves a fraction of the attention that it’s getting and honestly, for me at least, it’s getting attention for all the wrong reasons. Leo and Adams make the film well worth watching, but don’t receive the focus either of them truly deserve. It’s by no means a terrible movie, but it was hardly exceptional in my eyes either. Ultimately, it seems like it’s destined to be an Oscar favorite that’s forgotten about in several years’ time.