After years in development, David O. Russell’s The Fighter had its world premiere Tuesday night at the AFI Fest in Hollywood, CA. On hand to introduce the film was producer and star Mark Wahlberg who plays Micky Ward, a down on his luck Irish boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts whose family  – including older brother and former boxer Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) – holds him back every chance they get. And though the trailer makes the films seem like the atypical underdog true story, The Fighter almost doesn’t need any boxing to be an effective and emotional drama. Read more about it and see a video blog including myself, Peter Sciretta (also from /Film, of course) and Alex Billington from FirstShowing after the jump.

Though Micky Ward is a boxer, the title “The Fighter” really refers more to the relationship with his family. Ward’s mother Alice, played by Melissa Leo, has nine kids who all work against each other, and ever since Dickie blew his big shot (he famously fought legendary boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard, who cameos in the film) Micky is the new golden goose. That dynamic, not the boxing, is the heart of The Fighter. In fact, the boxing scenes simply don’t measure up to the ones of the family. Every time Leo, Bale or one of the seven sisters come on screen, it’s wrought with drama to a point where it’s almost frustrating. You want to scream at their ignorance and selfishness. In comparison, the boxing feels tacked on and, if not for the drama built up with the family, would be almost pointless. Part of that might have to do with the way O. Russell shot the boxing, on the grainy video of the period, or because those scenes are edited in a skewed I-Hit-You, You-Hit-Me portrayal of the sport (though, to be fair, many of Ward’s fights did feel like that). Either way, the boxing never quite pops with the emotion that’s held with a simple shot of Dickie walking down the street holding a birthday cake.

Most of that drama is not from the script, however, which never feels like anything special. It is, 100%, because of the performances. First and foremost, Christian Bale’s performance as Dickie is remarkable. You would never guess this guy could play Patrick Bateman, let alone Batman, because he IS Dickie – from the accent to the mannerisms to the enthusiasm and emotion. It’s a marvel. A few steps down from that, but not many, are Leo as the matriarch Alice as well as Amy Adams as Micky’s love interest Charlene. Leo’s portrayal is akin to Bale’s – total and utter transformation. Adams, on the other hand, is much more subtle as the woman with all the answers for her man, but none for herself.

Still, there are some odd choices in The Fighter. The music always feels more modern than the time period – which is set in the mid to late 1990s – and there are scenes of humor that don’t quite mesh. But really, that’s how The Fighter feels as a whole. The family drama is whirlwind of emotion. And while that helps to inform and make the boxing plot satisfying, the blend of the two never quite mesh perfectly. The Fighter a solid film with some exceptional bits, that holds itself back ever so slightly because it’s beholden to its genre as a sports story. And that’s coming from a huge sports movie fan.

At least, that’s my take on it. You can hear more of my take – as well as two more positive ones from Peter and Alex – in this video.

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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