The Fighter is the kind of film that will make Academy Awards night kind of boring. It’s solid enough that you can almost be sure it will be nominated but not so fantastic that it has any chance of competing with the real front runners. It’s one of the issues of having ten nominees instead of five–the race isn’t nearly as close.
This movie had a challenge before it filmed a single scene. The fighting picture has been produced to death with results ranging from Channing Tatum’s bomb Fighting to Academy Award-winners Million Dollar Baby and Rocky. Every story, true or imagined, has been explored to the point that these movies are riddled with cliches. Side stepping them was destined to be a tougher fight than Mark Wahlberg’s year of training in preparation to play the title character, Micky Ward.
Luckily, The Fighter succeeds both in making Wahlberg look like a real boxer and moving past the usual boxing formula. In fact, this movie isn’t really about the fight in the ring–it’s about the family outside it and how they fight…and fight and fight and fight.
The boxing scenes are partially shot stylistically to resemble watching a real fight on TV, and the knockout punch is delivered surprisingly anticlimactically. There is no dramatic swell of music or slow motion shot of Micky turning after his final blow. It’s fitting of The Fighter that his win is more about sharing it with his family. It’s a family story more than a boxing one, and it asks the relatively poignant question, “What happens when dreams don’t come true?”
The Fighter has so much of the Oscar spotlight because of the acting. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both won Golden Globes for supporting roles, and they’re favorites for the Oscars. Amy Adams was also nominated for her performance as Micky’s girlfriend Charlene, a role that effectively breaks her out of her sweet girl typecast. It’s not a surprise that they won Best Ensemble at the Critic’s Choice Awards. Bale is so transformed into the brother Dicky that he has erased all traces of himself.
Wahlberg’s character is a bit of a bore, and maybe he has to be considering his backdrop of bold and colorful personalities, but he is what holds this film back. The story doesn’t have the drama or inspiration of Million Dollar Baby, but it shouldn’t have to. It is subtle in an untold stories of the everyman kind of way. But Wahlberg doesn’t make me care if Micky wins or loses. I just want someone (mainly his girlfriend) to shut up his mom.
The successful film will likely clean up around the edges of the Academy Awards. It’s not really a contender for Best Picture, but it’s going to do very well in the smaller categories. It might not be the knockout Oscar-bait Wahlberg wanted it to be, but it’s a scrappy and talented underdog, much like its subject.