Wha' Ma?

There’s an intrinsic problem with boxing movies: there can only be two possible outcomes. Either the protagonist dies (preferably in the ring, at the hands of an unhinged Soviet man/bear) or he/she wins in the final moments, thereby face-slapping all the naysayers along the way (this is usually accompanied by a climactic score, or a power ballad from the 80’s). So there you have it. They win or they die, because, really, who’s going to want to watch the sum of all the boxers actions lead to a crushing defeat unless death is on the line?

That was the attitude I took going into the latest Mark Wahlberg effort, The Fighter, which opens on December 10th. I had a little hope though, since I’m an erstwhile Wahlberg fan and have been since The Italian Job and The Shooter. I enjoy most of his movies, and this was a chance to watch him in yet another movie based around a 25 mile radius from Boston. I love movies based in Massachusetts.

The Fighter is ostensibly about the rise & redemption of “Irish” Micky Ward and his dysfunctional-as-hell family. Ward (Wahlberg) is chaotically drawn apart by the crack-addled good intentions of his has-been-boxer brother Dicky (Christian Bale), his chain-smoking pscyho-mom Alice (Melissa Leo), his 438 big-haired sisters and his bartending girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams). This movie is based on a true story, so the squabbling hyena-like antics of his family are an important ingredient to the soup. And, as a son in a batshit crazy family, I can appreciate that.

Fact Number 7 that I can appreciate about this movie: the wardrobe is hinged completely on the crappy choices we all made in the 80s/90s, most aptly demonstrated by the towering infernos of hair displayed by Wards sisters as they drink Budweiser longnecks and suck down smokes. Ward drives a crappy car, he lives in a crappy apartment, he has a crappy job and a family that’s just, well, crappy. They constantly drag him down as a comparison to his older brother, so perfectly played by Bale, who’s claim to fame is that he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight one time (Sugar Ray may well have tripped, a contentious claim that leads to the baring of fists at its mere mention). Dicky is also the subject of an HBO special being filmed on crack addiction, although he’s convinced it’s a documentary about an imaginary comeback he’s staging in his mind. Finally, Micky has enough of it all when Dicky heads to prison for another stint, and so decides to make his own mark on the boxing world without the toxic influences of his family. And he shines. Boy, does he shine.

But unlike after-school specials, where the redemption song cues up immediately upon his shining, Micky must face the onslaught of his unhinged family, who see his ascension minus his brother as nothing short of treason. Ward makes his choices and we’re treated to the ensuing chaos that follows. A Wahlberg production years from concept to execution, the results of his efforts are stellar, most notably in how Alice &  Dicky steal the whole show. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see Bale win an award for his acting, as he nails his role. Nails it. He’s so convincing, I’d be loathe to let him into my house, for fear that he’d rip out the wiring for crack money. And Melissa Leo? OWNS her role as the coiffed-out hell-bitch mom, down to the pleather cigarette case (you know, the one with the brass snap on top, like your mom or grandmother toted her Virginia Slims around in) and foul-mouthed ‘tude. I loathed her and loved her all at once, based on her misguided family loyalty mixed nicely with her psychotic behavior. Both Leo and Bale were at the top of the game here, and it shows throughout.

Take your buddy, take your girlfriend, take your husband, just take someone and go see this movie. The fight scenes are realistic enough to make you cringe, the shirtless Mark Wahlberg scenes are enough to make the ladies swoon a bit and I hate to ruin it for you, but guess what? There’s no Soviet man/bear to be found anywhere. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I think you will too.

Overall Movie Score: A-

Thanks again to Chris Louzader for providing the opportunity to review this great movie