By Don Simpson | February 25, 2011
Director: David O. Russell
Writer(s): Scott Silver (screenplay), Paul Tamasy (screenplay & story), Eric Johnson (screenplay & story), Keith Dorrington (story)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
This is going to be one of those film reviews that really upsets a lot of people. So before I get started, I want to point out that I do recognize that a lot of people love The Fighter. The Fighter made the Top 10 lists of countless film critics whom I respect and admire. The Fighter has also been nominated for seven Oscars: Best Picture; Achievement in Directing; Writing, (Original Screenplay); Achievement in Editing; Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role; and two for Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. I am not here to dispute or debate anyone who likes The Fighter; you are not wrong if you like or love The Fighter, you just must have seen a different film than I did. I am only here to give my opinion. (As the saying goes: opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.)
I also want to clarify that I like David O. Russell. I love Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, and Three Kings, and I did not hate I Heart Huckabees as much as most people. Additionally, I consider Christian Bale to be one of the finest actors of his generation. I will, however, admit that I hate boxing movies, but to be perfectly honest, it is not the boxing aspects of The Fighter that irk me. (For the first time in my life as a cinefile, I kept hoping for more boxing and less acting.)
When it comes down to it, I really hate Christian Bale’s portrayal of Dicky Eklund (it is one of those performances that you will love or hate). I do not know anything about the real Dicky, but I have unfortunately known enough crack addicts in my lifetime to form the opinion that Bale is playing an incredibly exaggerated caricature of a crack addict. I feel like Bale plays Dicky purely for comic relief. There are several moments when I have a difficult time watching the film while Bale is on-screen (as in it is cringe-inducing); other times I cannot stop myself from laughing at him. Yes, I realize that Bale literally transformed his body for this role, to the point that he is barely recognizable. I do not know if I consider that act to be commendable or insanely unhealthy, but I definitely know that I do not see anything in his performance that deserves accolades. (Once again, I accept that I am in the minority.)
My other major gripe with The Fighter has to do with Micky (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky’s gaggle of sisters. They also feel like incredibly exaggerated caricatures being played purely for comedic relief (picture the girls from Jersey Shore…20 years later). Again, I never knew the women that these characters were based on, but judging once again from my own experience, I have never known of anyone who came anywhere close to resembling the Eklund ladies. They actually make Bale’s performance seem controlled and tame.
The other main performances, Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, are all perfectly acceptable. Wahlberg is essentially the same character he has played time and time again and is obviously quite comfortable in that role (and he is shirtless often enough to appease anyone who just likes to ogle his body). Adams is also playing her status quo…well, except for the cursing and the fighting (and her outfits are revealing enough to appease anyone who just likes to ogle her body). So that leaves us with Leo, who is the only one who appears to be reaching outside of her comfort zone (and is totally unogleable…which I know is not actually a word, but it describes her too perfectly for me to resist using it).
Overall, I am fairly confused by the structure, pacing and tone of The Fighter. It just seems like a convoluted mess to me. The scenes feel like an unrelated series of short vignettes, as if Russell knew which episodes he wanted to film of Micky’s and Dicky’s lives, but he thought nothing about making them flow together as one cohesive whole. (Yet The Fighter is nominated for Best Achievement in Editing…so maybe I am missing its genius? Is bad the new good again?)
For a significant portion of the film, Russell seems unsure about whether this film is about Micky or Dicky—the perspective is completely off. In fact there is no coherent perspective, be it first person…second person…third person; there is the documentary within the film, the archive video footage, some handheld POV shots and some traditional studio shots from the all-seeing camera. Again, Russell seems to be doing whatever works (or does not work) for a specific scene, not thinking of the overall flow.
Other dissenters have mentioned that The Fighter ends before Micky’s life becomes entertaining and cinematic. I do not know enough about Micky’s boxing career to make a judgement on that matter, but I do think the starting and ending points seem quite awkward and random…sort of like if I just stopped writing this review —