one thing i didn’t know going into my screening of the fighter: it’s based on a true story.  i should have, since pretty much every hollywood sports movie is based on a true story.

anyway.  the fighter follows the rise of micky ward (mark wahlberg) and the fall of his half brother, dick eklund (christian bale).  actually, dickie’s already fallen pretty hard at this point.  it’s 1993, and micky’s been boxing his way up the ranks, except he keeps getting knocked down because his brother can’t be bothered to show up for training sessions and his mother alice (played by melissa leo) doesn’t know jack about managing a fighter and only goes where they’re promised money.  dickie’s moment of glory was in 1978, when he knocked down sugar ray leonard.  then he found his true love, crack, and it was a downward spiral from there.

i like sports movies.  the fighter, though, isn’t a sports movie.  at least not for the first hour and a half.  more about a dysfunctional family that’s falling apart at the seams, the performances of the supporting cast make the movie and keep the story rolling.  leo, whom i’ve adored ever since she was on TV’s homicide: life on the street, proves that her earlier oscar nomination for frozen river wasn’t a fluke; she really is that good.  even with the bleached blond pompadour she’s stuck wearing.  her alice rules as only a matriarch of a large family can, but the pain she feels when she sees dickie jumping out a window of the crack house is etched all over her face.

a lot’s been said of amy adams (as ward’s girlfriend charlene) performance.  yes, she was good.  she was very good.  but she always gets cast as a wide eyed innocent, so how much of this is being a good actor and how much is simply showing the viewers you can do something else, who knows.  it kind of reminded me of denzel washington in training day.  he played against type, he won an oscar.

and a lot has been said about christian bale’s performance.  i’ll admit i’m

ah, brotherly love

biased, but he really was phenomenal.  scary thin (although not quite at machinist thinness), strung out and bug eyed for much of the movie, you feel a growing sense of horror as he digs himself deeper and deeper into his hole.  i’m pretty confident in saying he’ll score his first oscar nod for this role.

the film’s heart, though, wasn’t wahlberg as ward.  he was watchable (which is saying a LOT, since i don’t particularly like him) but no, that belongs to jack mcgee as ward’s father, george.  he pushes his son to lose his toxic brother and mother to focus on himself, and you can see his joy, his sorrow, every emotion he feels for his son and his ups and downs as a fighter in his posture, on his face.  there’s one scene in particular when alice and her seven daughters go to confront charlene and end up in a fight on her front porch.  george happens to be driving by and stops to get out to help, realizes it’s his wife, and hurriedly climbs back into his truck and backs away.  the look on his face just match every “oh shit” moment any dad has ever gotten into.  it was hilarious.

so glad i sacrificed my sunday morning for a few hours in a dark theatre.  the fighter was totally worth it.

*image credit via paramount pictures

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