The Fighting Irish

We’ve been lured by urban settings before – places so vivid they become a character in and of themselves:  Dickensian London, James Joyce’s Dublin, Scorsese’s New York…and now, in recent years we’ve found a great attraction to Affleckted Boston.  Movies like The Departed, Gone Baby Gone and this year’s The Town have taken us there before.  Ben Affleck may have nothing to do with this latest, The Fighter, but he’s been the greatest purveyor of this white trash squalor, and it runs amuck in David O. Russell’s fact based tale surrounding Micky Ward’s struggle to rise above his roots in the Lowell subsection of Boston to become a champion boxer.

Boxing films have become the most prestigious sub-genre of sports films.  Many an actor and director have used the boxing ring as a stepping stone in their careers and a way to rack up awards.  The Fighter is as formulaic as they come, so the audience must focus on the performances and the direction to find their entertainment.

As Micky Ward, Mark Whalberg makes a compelling straight-man to the cast of scenery-chewing clowns around him.  Never having been able to show much range, Whalberg displays his commitment by turning it into a physical performance, and O. Russell does a commendable job making the fight scenes seem authentic by staging them like HBO shot the actual fights they are re-enacting.  This successfully removes the film from comparisons to past legendary boxing films like Raging Bull by positioning it more akin to a docu-drama.

Meanwhile, as Micky’s crack head brother, Dicky, Christian Bale relishes a bit too much in playing the classic loser who hits rock bottom before finding redemption.  Melissa Leo chews every bit of scenery and lesser actor/actress around her as their train wreck of a mother/manager.  There’s one scene after Leo wrastles Bale from a crack house and they begin singing together in the car where I thought they would end up chewing on each other thus causing a tear in the space-film continuum where The Fighter became a zombie apocalypse film.  O. Russell seems to enjoy letting these two chomp on everything, and there’s an air of disdain for his characters that hangs over many scenes, especially the tragically humorous bits involving Micky’s gaggle of idiotic and meddling sisters.  In an attempt not to let the film turn into a dark comedy, O. Russell holds back Leo and Bale in later scenes where they find redemption by keeping the histrionics in check.

Amy Adams, as Micky’s tough as nails girlfriend Charlene, rescues the audience from the over-acting shenanigans of Leo and Bale by effectively going against type and turning in a consummately professional and measured performance.  Never once do you doubt Adams’ commitment to pulling this off nor do you second-guess her character’s authenticity and commitment to Micky.  Her scenes where she takes on Leo and her gang of frizzied-haired misfit daughters are the film’s highlights.

With performances just wacky enough to keep you on your toes and direction just interesting enough to rise above the formula, The Fighter becomes a decent way to spend a few hours.  Likewise, its depiction of Lowell should please those who have come to expect this kind of colorful depiction of Boston and its suburbs.  Sadly, there’s nothing revolutionary on display and there aren’t enough layers in the narrative to give the film any deeper resonance.

Meanwhile, the marked differences between the methods of Leo and Bale vs. Adams should provide decent fodder for those currently enrolled in acting classes.  Personally, I think Adams knocked them out…you wanna fight about it?

Written by David H. Schleicher

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5 comments on “The Fighting Irish

  1. Dianne Glave says:

    These movies remind me of growing up in Queens, new york: gritty and hardscrabble. I saw the fighter last weekend. Loved the Greek- like chorus of crazy sisters in the fighter.

    Dianne, your comparison of the crazy sisters to a Greek chorus is most apt! –DHS

  2. “Sadly, there’s nothing revolutionary on display and there aren’t enough layers in the narrative to give the film any deeper resonance.”

    Oh David, you know I respect your opinion immensely, but we seem to disagree quite often and here is another instance. I went into this movie expecting to hate it, especially after Sam Juliano’s harsh words, and about 45 minutes into it I was surprised to find myself not just liking, but loving it.

    Yes it was fairly formulaic, but Russell does such a good job that it works. I agree that Bale and Leo are over the top, but not disastrously so. They didn’t strike me as caricatures. And the quiet, thoughtful performances of Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams counter their costars nicely.

    I think I’ll have more to say about this after Christmas so I won’t expend all my energy on this here. But suffice it to say I really enjoyed this movie and, though this might give you and Sam a heart attack, it may end up on my year end top ten list.

    Jason, no heart attack here. I liked the film well enough, I just didn’t think it was Top Ten material. –DHS

  3. John Greco says:

    David, like I told Sam and company over at WitD, Russell seems to have taken a bit of the Stallone and mixed in some Scorsese to come up with this work. I liked the film but it will not make my top 10 list. I guess I thought more of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo’s performances than you though we seem to agree with Amy Adams who was excellent as you say “going against type.”

    Happy Holidays to you and yours!!!

    John, don’t get me wrong…I enjoyed watching Bale and Leo, I just thought they over did it. Some of Leo’s facial expressions were a riot though. I think we can all agree on Adams. Happy holidays! –DHS

  4. Sam Juliano says:

    Happy Holidays to you and yours David!

    Well, I know we exchanged views on this film over at WitD as John mentions, but I appreciate the in depth analysis, and your seeming divided reaction. Still, I guess I was less impressed and found the boxing pyrotechnics old hat, and the entire story arc formulaic. I thought they built up the trailer elements too descriptively, and I felt Wahlberh was one-note. I did like the other performances, and was at times mildly entertained by the humorous underpinnings. Typically you have covered all the aspects, and have well-defended your position.

    Happy Holidays, Sam! –DHS

  5. Sam Juliano says:

    Jason, in true Christmas spirit I will allow this one single cinematic transgression!!!

    LOL!!!!!!!!!!!

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