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The Fighter

The Fighter is here just in time ‘for Oscar consideration’ and often feels like it was made specifically for an awards committee to whoop over.

It also arrives with a few heavy-hitters on board, and is a pet project for the film’s star and hero, Mark Wahlberg. It concerns a couple of boxing brothers from New Joisy (not really, but that was my assumption – they actually hail from Lowell, Massachusetts), one a drug-addict has-been (Dick Eklund, played by a rangy, sinewy Christian Bale, who seems happy to do slightly too much once again), the other a misguided talent coasting towards undistinguished fizzle-out (Wahlberg as Mickey Ward). The has-been, a livewire, erratic presence, trains Wahlberg and initially there’s more than the suggestion of Bale liking top-dog status in the boxing family and not really being too worried as to the prospects of his younger brother. So, he lines him up with a fight in a heavier weight class and watches him get stomped. Both are going nowhere.

Add to this the mother (Melissa Leo – too much of a plucky caricature) who ‘manages’ the dwindling career and dotes on the haplessly chaotic Bale. A palpably imminent, time-honoured turning point is soon reached, manifest in the form of Amy Adams’ barmaid, who does little other than encourage common-sense (the prospect of a new trainer, new regime, curtailment of bad influences ie his family etc) but is quickly scapegoated as a Yoko Ono figure.

Wahlberg forges ahead, grimly possessive matriarch out of the picture and brother soon behind bars, and eventually gets a title shot. And, well. What do you think?

The film is careful to adhere to boxing-movie conventions, so you have the usual ‘rousing’ emotive elements and terrible fight scenes. When will there be another realistic boxing match in cinemas? I mistily recall Triumph Of The Spirit and Raging Bull as containing authentically stupefying crosses and jabs, spit and blood spraying over the canvas and both guck-drenched pugilists. Here we have the usual, charmlessly employed ‘fighter gets pulverised without response, then suddenly awakens at the same time as the musical backdrop to out-of-nowhere reverse roles and stick it to the previously dominant enemy whilst family borrow pained-then-relief-stricken expressions and clutch their faces and our hero looks rueful-then-post-coital’.

The Fighter is strange. One moment it lurches into ‘Warp Records does Raging Bull’ territory and looks like it’s about to throw off its reluctance to defy the tried-and-tested, feels pleasantly lo-fi and experimental, then slides back into crappy TV movie mode and has you cringing and chewing your knuckles and groaning. It’s another reasonably compelling ‘triumph over adversity’ biopic and contains several good performances (particularly Amy Adams) but (clears throat and looks away) it’s no knock-out. Unless you’re an ageing Oscar committee member that likes this sort of thing – in which case you’ll also need to remember that Colin Firth is playing royalty this year in a triumph-over-adversity picture and narrowly missed out last, and this trumps (just) phoenix-from-the-flames sports stuff every time.

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