4 February 2011


Here's a puzzler. When Christian Bale is the centre of attention all of the time, and Mark Wahlberg is overshadowed by his skinny and charismatic self, despite having more heart than Bale or anyone else around in this story, am I talking about the 2011 awards season or The Fighter?

For those unfamiliar, The Fighter is the true story of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward as he came back from obscurity and humiliation to take on the Welterweight Champion of the World. As we find Micky, he's being managed terribly by his domineering family, and trained by his egotistical crackhead brother, Dickie. His brother is the hometown hero, in whose footsteps Micky has always been intended to follow, but as he finds one final chance to realise his potential, it may well mean severing ties with his family.

This Mark Wahlberg thing is a sticking point with me, just because he's so good in this. I laughed along with everyone else at The Happening and Max Payne, and the Saturday Night Live skit in which he's shown to talk to animals remains one of my favourite things. Hell, I even laughed during the Golden Globes TV coverage the other week, which cut back to Wahlberg drinking when someone who wasn't him won an award for acting in The Fighter while he didn't get a mention. That was before I saw the film, and now I'm completely on his side.

Yes, Christian Bale is an absolute force of nature as Dickie, channelling the way that Kevin Smith describes the drug-addicted Jason Mewes as well as throwing his weight around dramatically just the same. And yes, Amy Adams proves her mettle by breaking type in one of the sexiest roles of the year. And yes, Melissa Leo deserves everything that's coming her way for her overbearing matriarchal turn as Micky's manager. But where's the appreciation for Mark Wahlberg?

It's so strange that he's been overlooked, because all the elements for awards success are there. He's undergone a physical transformation, training for the last four years to achieve the physique he has for just this one film and somehow being overshadowed by Bale going really skinny again. He's playing a real person, just like Best Actor favourites like Colin Firth or Jesse Eisenberg or James Franco. And yet somehow, he's the one who's being overlooked. Shame on all of you.

I realise I'm talking a lot about the general audience and industry response to the film, which largely doesn't matter much in this context, and not saying enough about The Fighter, which is a phenomenally good film. It's inspiring and engaging and just all around excellent in all the places where most modern sports movies usually fall short. The seminal boxing movie is probably Rocky, and there are six of those to choose from. And even putting those aside, there's Raging Bull and Million Dollar Baby. It's a crowded field, but The Fighter takes it to the crowd and riles up an audience like no other sports movie I can remember seeing in a cinema.

As I quite thoroughly explained above, it's an acting showcase more than a film about the true story, which makes it all the more annoying that it trips at the final hurdle and does that really fucking annoying thing that movies based on true stories do. It shows the real people during the end credits. I actually appreciated the way that Sugar Ray Leonard and Mickey O'Keefe were cast as themselves, because it wasn't too obvious and it didn't take me out of the film, but Hollywood, let's get this straight. In recent months, I have entirely bought into performances by James Franco and Sam Rockwell, only to be shown the people they portrayed so well at the end of the film. The same follows here with Wahlberg and Bale. I don't want to see the real Micky and Dicky, or else I'd have waited for a documentary to tell this story instead.

Speaking of realism though, I feel like I should bring up a discussion I had in the pub about the film, the night after I saw it. We both really enjoyed it, and I praised the acting, the direction and how real the boxing looked. The other guy said that it actually looked choreographed and fake, so I stuck to my guns and asked why. Then he knocked me out by quite rightly pointing out that I don't actually watch or like boxing. Only then did I wake up to the fact that I'd been so hooked into the real story and the world it inhabits that I'd been convinced I knew it better than I did. So the guy in the pub wins some points there. Hey, this review is far enough from the rails already, so personal anecdotes are fine, and relevant, especially when they illustrate the spellbinding and magnetic effect of the film!

The trend of showing the real people in the credits really annoys me, but it's definitely not enough to prevent me from recommending The Fighter to all and sundry. It's truly engrossing and it's never po-faced- in the manner of director David O. Russell's previous film Three Kings, it's a lot of fun to watch. It's a rousing watch and the calibre of the performances are next to none. While The King's Speech may hoover up certain major awards, The Fighter should clean up in certain acting categories. The only shame is that Mark Wahlberg isn't getting more recognition for his stellar work in the film.

The Fighter is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Fighter, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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