DVD Release Date:  March 15, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: December 10, 2010 (limited); December 17, 2010 (wide)
Rating:  R (for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality)
Genre:  Drama, Adaptation, Sports, Biopic
Run Time:  115 min.
Director:  David O. Russell
Actors:  Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Melissa McMeekin

Given all the love it's received from critics, not to mention multiple Golden Globe nominations to boot—five in the major categories—you'd assume The Fighter was one of this year's true rarities, a film of magnificent quality that really stuck with you once the credits rolled.

But truth be told, there's really only one Oscar-caliber performance in The Fighter, and the cobbled-together story that's weighed down by far too much family drama (and not enough of the protagonist's journey against the ropes), doesn't quite deliver a knockout punch either. In short, The Fighter is good, but it's not great.

In a year that's been sorely lacking in winning performances at the multiplex, however, it's definitely not the worst of the bunch, even if it is starring Mark Wahlberg, who still lacks a full range of facial expressions. While his depiction of a down-on-his-luck boxer living in the shadow of his older brother who used to rule the ring is far better than, say, his work in The Lovely Bones or The Happening, he's still never all that convincing.

These imperfections are only magnified whenever Wahlberg is sharing the screen with his on-screen kin, Dicky (Christian Bale). Much like his role in The Machinist, Bale is a wisp of his former self with a gaunt physique that's befitting of someone hopelessly addicted to drugs. But even when Dicky is strung out and about as unlovable as someone can be, you simply can't tear yourself away from watching because he's so utterly engaging.

And therein lies the bulk of the film's misfires. Even though it's Micky's fight against the demons that prevent him from being a champion that's what we're supposed to be all invested in, it's Dicky's battle against crack addiction that packs the biggest wallop of all. Basically, Bale's a shoo-in for that aforementioned Oscar, but the film itself? Well, if the voters get it right, not so much.

Set in the heart of working class Massachusetts, Dicky was once crowned the "pride of Lowell" after he fought Sugar Ray Leonard and won. Clearly the brother his mother (Melissa Leo) loves the most, he's still holding on to hope that he'll make a big comeback, even if he's 40 years old and not exactly in fighting shape. In fact, ESPN is even making a movie about him, something that strings his delusions along; but what Dicky doesn't realize is that it's about the effects of crack addiction, not his former (or future) glory days.

In the meantime, Dicky is living vicariously through his brother and helping him train for his upcoming fights. That is, when he bothers even showing up. Worse yet, is that Micky's family is basically in charge of every aspect of his career, meaning that he's getting his butt kicked on a regular basis by guys twenty pounds heavier because he's not getting the right fights. As a street paver by day and a failed fighter at night, Micky wonders if he'll ever break free and make a name for himself without his family's "help."

Conveniently, a bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams, who's nothing more than an unconvincing plot device and the requisite eye candy) helps change the trajectory by coming to Micky's rescue. After Dicky is thrown back into prison, she encourages him to give boxing a try with a real agent and competent trainers by his side. Sensing some wisdom in what she's saying, even if it's nearly impossible to escape his family's clutches, Micky wisely heeds Charlene's advice and starts working toward his last shot at boxing glory.

Of course, we have to assume for ourselves that he's really upping his game because for whatever reasons, the filmmakers leave the bulk of that out. We see Micky jog a little, do a sit up or two, and poof, he's ready for the big time. Strangely enough, it doesn't seem to take much training at all to transform Micky into a veritable superstar. Now why didn't his family think of that?


Technicalities aside, there are actually far worse cinematic crimes perpetrated in The Fighter—like getting bogged down in the wrong details and climaxing much too early and basically abandoning the audience after that. Despite the decidedly feel-good nature of the proceedings that borrow from pretty much every sports cliché in the book, you get the feeling the filmmakers aspired toward something more profound and gritty and just fell way short.

Ultimately, The Fighter is pretty much what you'd expect if you hadn't heard everyone raving about it—an above average sports flick. Those seeking a boxing movie with some real punch might consider renting Raging Bull, Cinderella Man or even Rocky and Rocky 2 instead.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking and cigarette smoking, plus Dicky is addicted to crack, and he's shown using it in a couple of scenes.

  • Language/Profanity:  Considering the sheer grittiness of the neighborhood the bulk of the movie takes place in, rough language pretty much goes with the territory. There's an abundance of f-words and a smattering of other profanities, including a couple of instances where the Lord's name is taken in vain.

  • Sex/Nudity:  It's implied that Dicky's girlfriend is trading oral sex for crack money. Micky and his girlfriend Charlene sleep together, but nothing much aside from kissing is shown. In one scene, Charlene wears very sheer lingerie. She's also called a "tramp" and a "hussy" by Micky's overprotective sisters.

  • Violence:  Most of the violence is relegated to the ring, and the scenes are less gory than in other movies of this ilk. There's also a scene of police brutality where Micky's hand is clobbered repeatedly.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.