The Fighter (A-)
Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams)
Tied the Knot! Oscar and Melissa Leo (Best Supporting Actress), Oscar and Christian Bale (Best Supporting Actor)
One of the best films of the year and an important film since Amy Adams sheds her cute girl image faster than Rajon Rondo sheds defenders. After being the sweet, uninteresting wallpaper in films like Leap Year, Sunshine Cleaning, and Julie and Julia, Adams is provided the opportunity in The Fighter to throw down, verbally and physically, and she does so with much sneaky aplomb. She plays Charlene, the girlfriend/confidante of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a working-class boxer from blue collar Lowell, MA living in the shadow of his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Adams nails the simple complexity of a woman who finds her shadow in Mickey. She recognizes she needs to not only help Mickey conquer his demons (his family, first and foremost), but her own: the inability to act on the persistent failure that's smothered the dormant potential residing within soul. For her and for Mickey, their symbiotic relationship allows for each to bring out the most authentic version of each other, but not without severe struggle, which is made emotionally resonant via the boxing metaphor. Watching Adams in this film provides a sigh of relief for the actress herself because she sheds the baggage of unfulfilled potential she's been carrying since her exquisite turn in Junebug.
Sometimes, this verisimilitude might veer towards the garish: Ward’s family appears straight out of some stereotypically twisted white-trash, urban hillbilly The Hills Have Eyes freak fest. Besides ex-professional boxer turned crack addict Dicky (Bale plays him as a garish ball of energy as if his body is plugged into some off-screen electrical outlet that’s constantly shocking his system until he’s all spastic limbs, head bobs, bugged-out eyes), there's Micky’s seven hideous sisters and one mama bear, played by Melissa Leo. Both Leo and Bale give mannered performances that provide the film a hefty dose of entertainment bravura (especially Bale's), but neither should have won the Oscar for supporting actress and actor (Adams should have won for supporting actress and John Hawkes for supporting actor). Thankfully, director David O.Russell balances the more histrionic performances with subdued, but effective turns by not only Adams, but star Wahlberg 1. This guy got no recognition during the awards season; instead, critics fawned over Bale and Leo. But his performance provides the ballast for the other performances. Wahlberg gives Ward a reticence and integrity that allows for the viewer to understand the difficulty he faces when dealing with his family and struggling to move on to another plateau in his life.
Best picture of the year? No. One of the top ten? Absolutely. Even those who don't love the sport of boxing should discover that boxing is just the architecture The Fighter uses to construct an engrossing, well-told tale.
1 - I do hope David O. Russell goes back to writing original material after The Fighter. He's an inventive, exiting storyteller, and I'd like to hear more of his voice. Three Kings is still one of my all-time favorite films; an astoundingly amazing blend of tremendous visuals, deft satire, wicked action, and intelligent geopolitical polemic. If you have not watched it, shame on you! It never feels dated, and only feels more relevant today. Frankly, that movie is ripe for a sequel right now what with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Check out this great trailer: Three Kings