Awhile ago, I wrote a review of The Fighter for my friend Caitlin’s blog. And I just realized it’s not saved her or even linked. So I’m adding it. Find my review here. Find Caitlin’s review here. ( We really disagreed on this one. So it’s one to check out.) Full review below the fold.
Two For One
The Fighter is an easy movie to like. And I did. Thing is, though, I’m not sure it’s very good.
The problem is that there are really two movies here. The first is Christian Bale’s, and it’s just your basic addiction-of-the-week story. In this case, a washed up boxer-become-crack addict wrecks his life while creating endless problems for his longsuffering family. The interest is in the spectacle of people’s silence, a mother’s complicity, the ugliness of rock bottom. To the extent there is drama, it is predictable and uncomplicated, leading from a jail cell epiphany to recovery to reconciliation, step by step by step.
The second movie is Wahlberg’s. In it a young boxer suspects that his dreams of succeeding in the sport are unrealistic, wonders if they are even his dreams, and so, sets out to become his own man without cutting himself off from his family. The resulting drama is unexpectedly moving and manifests mostly in the interplay between Wahlberg’s silences and other characters’ efforts to speak for him. But then, somewhere along the way, this movie about Wahlberg’s struggle to find his own way becomes a movie about his discovery that he is everything his mother and crack addict brother always knew he was. And, in the process, he becomes the best boxer in the world.
Now I love melodrama and happy endings and the rest. But to me, the last half of Wahlberg’s story feels less like an artistic choice than a consequence of its sharing screen time with the addiction movie.* Bale’s film requires redemption, a triumph. “Say no to drugs, clean up (and stay clean in the face of temptation), and if you do, then you will have the life you really want.” The drama of the first half of Wahlberg’s movie, which necessarily entails loss and sacrifice and offers no easy fulfillment, can’t easily dovetail with this story. A sports movie can, though. And so, in the second half of the film, we get to see Wahlberg’s boxing triumphs match the addict’s triumphs, point by sweaty point.
For my part, I walked out of theatre thinking The Fighter was a half good movie, that Wahlberg’s is the better story, and that somewhere along the way, the filmmakers were seduced by Bale’s acting (much like his character seduced his family). That acting is skilled and solicits our empathy for the character, but the performance created in the editing room is completely outsized in relation to the rest of the film. The result is a film that turns around a non-dramatic addiction cliché rather than the oddly non-generic anti-sports film introduced in the first half of Wahlberg’s storyline. Which is too bad.
*—And it’s based on a true story. I know. But that’s just another thing you have to sort out when you’re figuring out what kind of movie you’re making.