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AFI Fest Review - The Fighter

AFI Fest 2010 presented by Audi listed a 'secret screening' which turned out to be a sneak peek at Paramount's The Fighter. In his introduction to the film, Mark Walhberg explained how he has been trying to get this film made (and training) for four years! You might recall at one point it was going to be made by Darren Aronofsky (he is a producer on the film). Walhberg eventually turned to his quirky collaborator David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings) to direct.

It tells the true story of rising boxer 'Irish' Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who is trained by his big brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), once a great boxer himself who is now a crack-addicted deadbeat. The trailer sells the movie as your typical boxing biopic but it is actually a drama about two brothers, their eccentric family, and their small hometown that happens to be set against a boxing/sports backdrop. It opens with Dickie 'the pride of Lowell' walking us through his working-class hometown, set perfectly to The Heavy's energetic song 'How You Like Me Now?', and we see that these people love him. He may have fallen from grace but he is still their hero. He made it out. He proved it could be done. He knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard. Or did he? Dickie is sure he's gonna have a comeback but it's very clear that's not gonna happen. Micky could break out but his family is dragging him down. Dickie hardly shows up for their training sessions and his family's paranoia is keeping him from succeeding. Micky starts getting better offers and dating Charlene (Amy Adams) which leads him to question leaving his family out of the ring. When the film starts there is also an HBO documentary crew following Dickie around so we get some ever popular in-character interviews. At first this seems gimmicky but it pays off incredibly well later in the film.

David O. Russell has a unique cinematic voice and I was worried Russell was just a director-for-hire here because this is the first film he didn't write himself. Thankfully that's not the case, Russell keeps the film from being a typical Hollywood boxing biopic by infusing it with his own sensibilities. It doesn't feel like a studio film at all with its gritty indie visual aesthetic and Russell's trademark humor. There is also an authenticity to the town of Lowell and you can tell they used a lot of locals to populate the cast. What really makes the film work though is the acting. Bale is absolutely amazing in the film. His funny, twitchy mile-a-minute Dickie is a lovable loser that will break your heart. It is a complete transformation and at no point are you aware that you're watching anyone but Dickie. He will definitely be getting some nominations next year. Bale certainly steals the show but the entire cast is excellent. Wahlberg does a great job keeping the film on track as the straight man. Micky has been living in his big brother's shadow all his life and you can see the simmering frustration across Wahlberg's eyes. He loves his family but knows he needs room to breathe. Amy Adams. What can you say she nails it again. Her no-nonsense bartender that always stands up for her man is a force to be reckoned with. Melissa Leo is great as the loud proud white trash mother who is in denial about Dickie and will stop at nothing to keep her dysfunctional family together. Skip the awful trailers and just go watch this film. You won't regret it. Opens December 10th.