By Bryce Van Kooten

There was a lot of hype surrounding The Fighter, David O. Russell’s (I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings) new film following the life of two Boston boxers: “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his crack-addled half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale).

The story was there as far as the facts go. Both brothers were ripe for the plucking onto the main screen and it would seem the addition of Amy Adams as Micky’s love interest Charlene Fleming would only add fuel to the combustible fire of drugs, sex and boxing, but at the end of the movie, everything felt so cluttered. From a million sisters squabbling like turkey’s to a chain-smoking mother to a “harmless” meth house; where to start…

Way back when (I think right around 3 years ago), I read a draft of The Fighter. Originally slated to be a Darren Aronofsky drama (that WOULD have been incredible), this script single handedly took the cake as the grittiest, darkest and most redemptive story I remember reading that year. The movie that wound up on screen haplessly departed from all semblance of that grit. And to be honest, it was a poor choice. What once started out as a journey into the depths of addiction and the love of a brother to pull another out quickly morphed into the slapstick banter and regrettable humor. It felt like something out of an R-rated made-for-TV movie. Too harsh? Well, jumping out of a crack house to run from your mother (twice) and falling into a garbage can might get a laugh, but its not being very honest with the problem. Agreed? Agreed.

I remember I leaned over to Phil Wallace (editor of Picktainment) and told him before the film that I was worried about the movie. He wondered why…

Bear with me as I stand on my soapbox for three points…

This film based its existence on three core topics: Boston. Boxing. And Brothers (they conveniently happen to all start with the same letter) and by doing that, they walked the razor’s edge.

Melissa Leo

Boston:
In recent months and years, we’ve been bombarded by outstanding Boston movies: The Departed, Gone Baby Gone, The Social Network (though not inherently Boston), Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, etc, all of which, save TSN, have that same gritty, ominous, dark feel to them. And to say that The Fighter (technically in Lowell, Mass.) is as good at depicting the food, family, accent, the culture of Boston as well as the ones that came before it is simply not true.

Boxing:
It’s going to be tough to make a boxing movie for the rest of eternity, let’s face it. It’s like saying that you can go out and make a great gangster movie without being compared to The Godfather or Goodfellas. There are just some genres/topics that are out of bounds for another couple decades: Storming the beach at Normandy, survivors on an island, the Batman franchise, William Wallace’s life story, anything to do with a ring of power, and blue people on another planet. They’re just off limits. So it goes with boxing as well … And it always will be. Rocky just did it better. The fights were better. The characters were arguably better and the 25-minute music-montages were better. You can’t outbox Rocky, so don’t try. The Fighter gave it a jab and came up short. Maybe they just needed Mr. T.?

Brothers:
The Fighter chose to go the way of Micky instead of Dicky. A noble decision, but not one I would have made. Dicky is by far the more interesting character in the film and capable of so much more movement! He’s a prisoner! He’s a loser! He’s a liar! He’s a JUNKIE! He’s got more arcs than McDonalds.  By giving Wahlberg and his mother Alice (played by the terrifically Melissa Leo) so much, they had to give Dicky less. And when your main character is unable to make a decision until 2 hours and 10 minutes into the film, that makes for an awful mess.

But let’s not dwell on all the bad, shall we?

Here me when I say this: Christian Bale deserves an Oscar nod. The Fighter is not my favorite movie of the year. I don’t think it should get a Best Picture nom, either. But Christian Bale — hell, I would have given him a nomination after the first 5 seconds of his talking head to begin the movie — deserves his due. From Empire of the Sun to Newsies to American Psycho to The Machinist to Rescue Dawn to The Dark Knight and still no nomination. Though The Fighter is far from the masterpiece is could have been, Chrisitian Bale shines through and brings character, quirkiness and due diligence to the real-life Dicky Eklund and any other brothers like him.

It was never meant to be Micky’s story anyway.

The Fighter opens in limited release on Friday, December 10.