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The Fighter DVD Review

The Fighter (2010) movie poster The Fighter

Theatrical Release: December 10, 2010 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: David O. Russell / Writers: Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (story & screenplay); Scott Silver (screenplay); Keith Dorrington (story)

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Micky Ward), Christian Bale (Dicky Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene Fleming), Melissa Leo (Alice Ward), Mickey O'Keefe (Mickey O'Keefe), Jack McGee (George Ward), Melissa McMeekin ("Little Alice" Eklund), Bianca Hunter (Cathy "Pork" Eklund), Erica McDermott (Cindy "Tar" Eklund), Jill Quigg (Donna Eklund Jaymes), Dendrie Taylor (Gail "Red Dog" Eklund), Kate O'Brien (Phyllis "Beaver" Eklund), Jenna Lamia (Sherri Ward), Frank Renzulli (Sal Lanano), Paul Campbell (Gary "Boo Boo" Giuffrida), Caitlin Dwyer (Kasie Ward), Chanty Sok (Karen), Richard Farrell (HBO Cameraman #1), Sugar Ray Leonard (Sugar Ray Leonard), Jackson Nicoll (Little Dicky Eklund), Alison Folland (Laurie Carroll), Sean Doherty (Jimmy - Laurie's Husband)

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Boxing appears to be the surest path to Academy Award recognition. Many people are hesitant to invest spectatorship in a sport that involves beating one another to incapacitation. Put it on film, though, and develop life around the boxer and suddenly it becomes great cinema. Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Raging Bull, Cinderella Man, When We Were Kings, The Champ, The Hurricane, Ali... all nominated for major Oscars and most of them winners as well. Even excluding movies with boxers whose fighting is not focal (like On the Waterfront, Pulp Fiction, and The Quiet Man),
I don't think you'll find any other subject matter with as strong a critical record. Clearly, boxing is the sport to film if you want acclaim and accolades.

The Fighter received plenty of both, culminating with last week's supporting actor and actress Oscar wins. Like every one of the aforementioned darlings, this is not a movie devoted to gloved combat. It is much more interested in the circumstances surrounding one man who enters the ring hungry for victory. The man is Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a working class member in the working class town of Lowell, Massachusetts.

The film opens in 1993. When he is not in the ring or training, Micky can be found paving Lowell's streets as part of a road crew. He's got a number of supporters behind him. They include seven tough sisters, his sharp-tongued mother/manager Alice (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), his sympathetic, henpecked father (Jack McGee), and a policeman trainer (Mickey O'Keefe, portraying himself). Most important of all is Micky's other sparring partner, older brother Dicky Eklund (Oscar-winning Christian Bale), a friendly but unreliable man fixated on his knockdown of Sugar Ray Leonard fifteen years earlier and struggling with a serious drug problem. A camera crew from HBO is following Dicky around part of the time, making a movie, he claims, on his comeback. In fact, they're documenting the staggering effects of crack addiction, for which Dicky is a gaunt, balding, and nearly toothless cautionary poster child.

Micky starts a relationship with Charlene (Amy Adams, earning her third supporting actress Oscar nomination in six years), a college dropout turned bartender who questions whether Micky's family really holds his best interests at heart. She encourages Micky to pursue his dream, a journey Dicky's run-ins with the law challenge.

Bruised and bandaged, "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) contemplates his future in a post-fight family limo ride. Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is excited to be the center of attention when the HBO documentary featuring him is screened for prison inmates.

Critics and moviegoers alike really responded to The Fighter with near-universal approval. I don't think that boxing is the reason for that. It may supply the title and drive the plot, but the sport is more of a backdrop to family drama. And what family drama it is.
The large Eklund-Ward clan is like none other committed to film. They are loud, profane, short-tempered, and tight-knit. Level-headed Micky is the black sheep of the group and as the film progresses, he sees the value in creating some distance and letting his career be less of a family business. We don't question that thinking, but at the same time, the tension that exists between these blood relations makes for arresting cinema, loaded with flavor and character.

It would be much easier for such scenes to ring false as filtered through the Hollywood machine, but brilliant casting lends the piece remarkable authenticity. As you suspect, most of the women playing Micky's sisters are not experienced actresses. Their bad hair, Boston accents, and surly manners are too convincing not to be based in some degree of reality, with several of them hailing from the area. Jack McGee, who you might recognize from over twenty years of bit movie parts, is just what the movie calls for as the short, pink-faced father often swallowed whole by the family's sea of estrogen. Mickey O'Keefe is incredibly comfortable playing himself, adding still more realism.

We're more aware that the two performers playing the other family members are stretching themselves, because Melissa Leo and Christian Bale have sustained long, prominent careers. Each is known to lose themselves in roles and both do so here, transforming in dramatic ways that make their many fresh trophies well-deserved. Bale especially is stunning, again jeopardizing his health with a weight loss from action movie hero to convincing junkie. There is no trace of his English accent nor any second-guessing of his mannerisms surely acquired from close study.

As Charlene, Amy Adams plays against type effectively and believably. She is a touch more cultured than the other locals, but every bit as tough and foul-mouthed. Her personal failure and regret remain just under the surface as motivation for her to help Micky. In that title role, Mark Wahlberg acts much like most past Mark Wahlberg characters have acted. Footage of the real "Irish" Micky Ward reveals that in this case, Wahlberg needn't have stretched his chops as his cast mates do. We may question how Micky turned out so differently from his siblings, but we don't question Wahlberg as a thirtysomething boxer or as the sturdy foundation upon which the rest of this fine film is built.

A collegiate high jumper now tending a rowdy bar, Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) is open to dating Micky and advising him on his own athletic career. Micky and Dicky's seven sisters (six of whom eye Charlene suspiciously here) make one of the most interesting group dynamics in cinema's history.

A movie about unsophisticated types wrestling with money concerns, drug addiction, and legal troubles could easily have been unpleasant, but director David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) renders the film upbeat and savory. There is a real sense of humor you don't expect from something unmistakably timed as award season bait. Russell deftly juggles drama and levity, ensuring the two are never at odds.

He also gets much out of the minimal in-ring fighting he depicts. There is one early fight in which Micky is dramatically outweighed, a montage of other fights forming a career resurgence, and a 10-minute climactic bout. In each case, the world around Micky has been so richly constructed that we're watching wondering how each blow affects the family. But Russell also gets in close and pays some notice to technique, hopefully enough to appease those who have come purely for the boxing.

One final achievement of the film that I find critical to its appeal is the chronological setting. This is one of the first period pieces set in the 1990s. It's both strange and enjoyable to see the not-so-distant past recreated with such potent detail. From the Zubaz and audio cassette rack sightings to the memory of HBO as a novelty (albeit one that everyone in Lowell can somehow afford), The Fighter sustains its era colorfully and poignantly even while compressing the real timeline in a vague way.

Melissa Leo and Christian Bale won Academy Awards for their portrayals of Micky's colorful mother/manager Alice and half-brother/trainer Dicky, both fans of smoking. In his corner between rounds, Micky (Mark Wahlberg) gets some advice from Mickey O'Keefe (playing himself) in a boxing scene shot just like HBO did in the '90s.

Critically exalted, a box office hit, and nominated for seven high-profile Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay), The Fighter offers a big career boost for everyone involved with it, effectively repairing the damage done by the embarrassing viral past on-set outbursts of both Russell and Bale.

As an interesting post-script, there are fifteen producers credited on the film. Included among the executive producers are some of the individuals behind this year's other Best Picture nominees: Harvey and Bob Weinstein, whose eponymous company produced and distributed the prize-winning The King's Speech; and Darren Aronofosky, who was once attached to direct this but left to make Black Swan instead. Though none of them were among the three producers whose names were submitted for the nomination (one of whom was the otherwise unrecognized Mark Wahlberg), it still seems they all had a valid back-up contender to root for.

Still enjoying the fruits of its victories, The Fighter swiftly comes to DVD and a 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack on Tuesday from Paramount Home Entertainment.

The Fighter DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Video Extra Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: March 15, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray Disc + DVD + Digital Copy ($39.99 SRP)
and on Video on Demand

VIDEO and AUDIO

By any standard, both picture and sound are excellent on The Fighter's DVD. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen video is just about flawless, boasting strong colors, tremendous detail, exceptional sharpness, and a delightfully clean element. The film has enough visual flourish to appreciate how great it looks here.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also a treat. While it most comes to life in the crowd roars of the finale, Michael Brook's fitting score and a handful of well-chosen tunes enliven the film without overpowering. Dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout, and there are subtitles in the country's three most common languages that you may find useful for when Dicky Eklund slurs his speech in excitement.

Christian Bale interacts with Dicky Eklund, the former boxer he portrays in "The Fighter", to the delight of the on and off-screen Mickey O'Keefe. Micky's training features prominently in the mobile montage of the DVD's main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Fighter is joined by just two bonus features on DVD. First up is an audio commentary by director David O. Russell. I can think of several other people who would have been welcome company here (from star/producer/project champion Wahlberg to the real Ward and Eklund), so it's unfortunate, Russell's got to speak alone. At least he does a fine job flying solo.
He's big on identifying: actors, locations, costume finds. Those remarks may not add much, but his comments on what is true and what is not, cut scenes (sadly not preserved here), challenges to license songs, and product placement opportunities are revealing and interesting.

The other extra is the 30-minute documentary "The Warrior's Code: Filming The Fighter." This excellent companion to the movie illustrates how instrumental and supportive to the production that the real people being (faithfully) dramatized were. We learn of the long process to get the story told and of the short, focused 33-day shoot that followed. Time is devoted to all of the major roles and the actors handling them, including those, like Sugar Ray Leonard, portraying themselves. There's good behind-the-scenes footage and interview remarks, all of which confirms the attention to detail and duty to facts that you gather from the film.

It's too bad Paramount didn't license High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell, the real HBO documentary whose filming is dramatized in The Fighter (called Crack in America) complete with director Richard Farrell playing himself. It would have been a terrific inclusion here, although probably not something the real subjects would like alongside this film.

The Blu-ray combo doesn't add that, but it does add deleted scenes with optional Russell commentary, the featurette "Keeping the Faith", and the movie's original trailer, although I imagine its DVD drops the extras found here to make room for the digital copy.

"Previews" plays trailers for Paranormal Activity 2 and Middle Men, then repeats the ones that play automatically at disc insertion, for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, and Jackass 3.

The animated main menu moves clips from the film around. The other screens are static and silent.

"The Fighter" dynamically opens with half-brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) strolling through their beloved working-class hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it might look like just another inspirational true underdog drama, The Fighter is one of the richest and most rewarding films of last year. The outstanding performances and direction take this far and the story of family loyalty and dysfunction is much more interesting and flavorful than the routine rags-to-riches boxing yarn you could reasonably expect.

Paramount's DVD doesn't carry much in the way of extras (and the Blu-ray-only deleted scenes are especially missed), but the documentary and commentary give us all we need and the feature presentation doesn't disappoint at all. This is a movie fit for owning, making your only question whether you're content with the DVD or would rather spend a few extra dollars for the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. Either way, you can't go wrong.

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Massachusetts: Gone Baby Gone Jesse Stone: No Remorse Edge of Darkness Deck the Halls
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The Fighter Songs List: The Heavy - "How You Like Me Now?", Keith St. John - "Sweet Dreams", Mariner - "Can't Hide Your Love Forever", "Solid Gold", Michael Mulholland - "Down and Dirty", The Breeders - "Saints", Atlanta Rhythm Section - "So Into You", Daryl Hall and John Oates - "Sara Smile", Whitesnake - "Here I Go Again", Wang Chung - "Dance Hall Days", Jaymee Carpenter - "Send Me Your Love", Antoine Duhamel - "La Maleta En El Camino", Christian Bale and Melissa Leo - "I Started a Joke", Sinn Sisamouth and Pan Ron - "Jasmine Girl", Led Zeppelin - "Good Times Bad Times", "Stakeout", 'Til Tuesday - "Voices Carry", Ferdinand Jay Smith - "HBO Feature Presentation Theme", Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Strip My Mind", Traffic - "Rock 'n' Roll Stew", Aerosmith - "Back in the Saddle", Dropkick Murphys - "The Warrior's Code (Live)", Mariachi La Estrella - "Siesta", The Rolling Stones - "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", The Mahones - "Paint the Town Red", Ben Harper - "Glory & Consequence"

The Fighter: Music from the Motion Picture by Michael Brook:
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Reviewed March 12, 2011.



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