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Rambling about The Fighter from the comfort of my home…

Another benefit to being on the fringe,  Academy screeners! They send out DVDs packaged by hundreds of assistants all over Hollywood so voting members (which unfortunately I am not) can decide on the top award while dealing with all the home distractions. So, with the hype swirling and anticipation peaking, I put in The Fighter.  I’ll start by admitting I had no idea who Micky Ward was before this film.  Maybe it’s because I was only 16 when Micky was starting his comeback and, him not being a fully developed female high school sophomore, I didn’t care to know who he was. And maybe because when I watch SportsCenter I listen to baseball, basketball and football (soccer every four years like a good American) and ignore all else. I could name all the boxers I know quite quickly – Ali, Foreman, Dempsey, Leonard, Liston, LaMotta (thanks Scorsese), Tyson, Holyfield, de la Hoya, Douglas and…. and I think I’m out.  Not being a huge fan of boxing didn’t detract from my enjoyment of Raging Bull, Rocky, or Million Dollar Baby, and didn’t for The Fighter either.  But still, other distractions did play a role in this viewing.

It was about dinner time, the wife and I just put Bean down for a nap, the food is on the table and we get ready to see what people are calling the best movie of the year. They are raving about this. I’m sure you’ve heard the hype, it is December after all and with the award season upon us you’re going to see a lot films bragging about their dubious nominations for SAG and Golden Globes (Alice In Wonderland Best Picture? Seriously?).  The Fighter has four SAG Award nomination, six Golden Globe nods (that’s right, people keep giving Melissa Leo nominations, damn it.)

We come into Micky’s life after he’s already made a name for himself as a boxer and is slumping.  He just lost four fights in a row and he’s being considered a “stepping stone,” which in boxing terms means he’s the guy you want your boxer fighting so your guy can move up the ranks.  His brother, Dicky Ecklund, has already seen his glory days; he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (the Leonard from my list above).  But now all Dicky has going for him is Micky, an HBO documentary crew, a crack addiction and a Cambodian crack whore that he always seems to be tangled up with when Micky needs him most.  I should digress briefly

real Dick Ecklund / Bale as Ecklund

to just echo what everyone is saying; Bale deserves, actually deserves, an award here. He and David O. Russell both deserve the nods they’re getting, but Bale’s award is going to be for his entire body of work.  He’s a tremendous actor and has been snubbed enough. And, like in this film, he always seems to be at his best when he’s emaciated (see The Machinist and Rescue Dawn).

The Mungin fight ends, Ah! I have time to grab more wine, shouldn’t take long, so I get up, go to the kitchen and grab the bottle.  I pour the glass, but before I sit, real quick, to the bathroom and I’m back.  It’s at the this point we find Micky getting an offer to train full time in Vegas.  He needs to sort of “break up” with his mother and brother who are his manager and trainer respectively.  For extra support he brings his new girlfriend Charlene, played by Amy Adams.  I loved Amy Adams in this role. She’s gone from the very innocent girl in Catch Me If You Can and Junebug to this tough talking bartender who can match attitude and grit with the apparent harem of hookers living in Micky’s house.

Needless to say, the “break up” with the family doesn’t pan out and Dicky swears he can get enough money keep Micky in Lowell and train year-round.  But, remember, Dicky is on crack. So his idea to pimp out his Cambodian girlfriend and rob the johns in order to raise money is ill-conceived at best and fails, resulting in a small falling out with the family and Micky contemplating retirement.  This is just about the low-point for the family.  Micky has a broken hand, isn’t fighting or talking to his mother, Dicky is in jail and just found out the documentary they did on him wasn’t about boxing but about his crack addiction. Oh, and it looks like Charlene doesn’t want to be around sad-sack Micky any longer.

PAUSE! The kid woke up.  Okay, rough wake-up, so we calm her down, get her fed and then try to entertain her with toys while we resume the movie.  To avoid spoiling more I’ll sum up.  The Fighter ends up being an uplifting film with tremendous heart.  It teaches us that even at rock bottom you need to remain tenacious and that you need to continue to support your family even if your mom is the easiest, most fertile white trash in Massachusetts and your brother is a crack head.  There is a tremendous value in loving and being loved unconditionally and with that sort of support behind you, you can always pull yourself up.  It’s a good message. And I always like David O. Russell’s work, I don’t think he’s made a movie I didn’t like.  His dedication to accuracy during the fights was brilliant and I applaud he choice to use old Beta to tape the fights. I read that he choreographed each bout by recreating the tapes of Micky’s actually fights and recorded them with the help of directors and cameramen from HBO Sports.  They’re best boxing scenes since Raging Bull and the best aspect of the entire picture.

I didn’t love this movie, though. Could it be the hype? No. Maybe it was because of Melissa Leo. I just don’t care for Leo and she posted negative marks with me when watching this film. Which is fine, some actors just rub audience members the wrong way, I’m sure there are actors you just don’t care for. But, you know how they say when you are in a role with great actors supporting you, you raise your game?  Like when playing with better athletes.  Not here. It’s like putting a 19″ Toshiba TV next to an IMAX screen… your Toshiba doesn’t all the sudden perform better, in fact it’s worse now that you have a comparison.  Leo is the Toshiba. And it made Bale look like an IMAX.

But no, there are movies out there that I love and they have actors I don’t like in the cast.  This isn’t Leo’s fault. I think I didn’t enjoy this movie fully because of home distractions. I never got 100% invested, and that raises the question: how many Academy voters are just watching these movies at home, or at the office or on their laptop on a plane? I think when people vote based on home screenings, tragedies like this can result

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