The documentary Facing Ali by Pete McCormack had presented a timeline into the career of Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time, and the compelling stories of the fighters who had once traded blows with him. I suppose these larger than life personalities, spending their professional career under intense training for a gladiatorial sport, comes with a whole host of human stories behind their personas, and perhaps that's why there's always a slew of boxing films to come out from time to time.
Not another boxing film again you may add, since you probably have seen the Rocky films and Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, to biopics like Raging Bull and Cinderella Man, almost always telling of how the protagonist have to overcome challenges both inside and outside the ring. But I suppose human interest stories, those inspirational ones, will never be out of fashion, because they all serve as reminders of how we can achieve our goals and dreams if we put our minds, focus and efforts to doing that, and given the daily drudgery in life, we're never going to see enough of such reminders during trips to the movies to cop out from real life.
And of course a solid cast will help as well. We know Mark Wahlberg possesses that muscular killer body for some time already as he flaunts it in his previous films, in a build up to the role as Micky Ward, the Light Welterweight Champion at one point in his career. Tired of being nothing more than a stepping stone for other boxers to advance toward a title shot, you can't help but to feel sorry for him as his family, namely his mom Alice (Melissa Leo) and half brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), mismanages his career with their limited management skills, preferring to take quick routes so long as the dough can continue to come in.
It doesn't help of course with a really white trash type of family with no less than 7 sisters in tow forming an extended family to feed, always focusing on the tree and missing the forest out there. Wahlberg portrays Mickey with an understated anxiety as he worries about his getting on in the number of years, yet being stuck in the rut without light at the end of the tunnel, made worse by Dickie who seems to be putting his brother's career in jeopardy with his crack cocaine addiction, living on his past glories and that single famous fight against Sugar Ray Leonard. Possessing that steely determination only came later when he meets with the bargirl Charlene (Amy Adams) whom he falls in love with, and started to turn things around starting with standing up to his family.
Bale drops his weight once again to portray Dickie as that flamboyantly irresponsible trainer for Mickey, a good for nothing who disappears each time responsibility comes knocking. Bale truly takes his craft seriously, where The Fighter also refers to the rehabilitation and comeback not only of Mickey Ward in the professional arena over injury and a possible end to his career, but that of Dickie and that tremendous change to his life, being the boxing brain that his brother needs to tap on. The bookends here marks a complete about turn that only Bale can bring across convincingly, showing why he's one of the A-list performers of today, and I can't help but to chuckle each time he mouths off here, because of that now infamous tirade when making Terminator: Salvation.
Amy Adams also balances the testosterone charge in the movie, being the headstrong woman who doesn't accept the flak dished out by the Ward sisters, introducing the much needed clarity by an outsider in changing a non-productive regime for her lover to help me achieve a chance that title shot. If you think Adams can only star as demure characters, you'll change your opinion once you see this as she plays both naughty and nice. Like any family, the introduction of an outsider raises opportunities for tussling over their common loved one, and that perhaps took centerstage as well mid way through the film when Mickey's career is in the doldrums.
But what makes The Fighter stand out amongst its peers and competitors, and something which I have yet to see until now, are how the fights get choreographed and shot. Some ingenuity went into designing the bouts, putting the audience at ringside to the action, yet witnessing the battle unfold through another perspective, ala mimicking watching it through a sports television program in its presentation with commentary and without quick cutting bullshit. Beautifully filmed to make you feel as if you're lounging at home with beer in one hand and a remote on the other, with that ubiquitous montage sequence finding its way as well like most boxing films highlighting the boxer training hard at work, and nifty editing to demonstrate his many steps taken toward that championship fight.
Adding some glamour and real life personalities to raise authenticity of the film will be the presence of Sugar Ray Leonard and Mickey O'Keefe playing himself, the real life training at Mickey Ward's corner. Such stories may have been told countless of times before with different protagonists fighting their own demons and off the ring battles, but The Fighter delivers that solid knockout punch with its strong cast and direction. I'm hoping it goes in as the underdog this awards season and sucker punches the other contenders one way or another. Highly recommended as it works its way to my early shortlist of the best so far this year.