by Charlie 21er
Being a hooligan, roustabout and all around never-do-well has its benefits. Some people don’t believe this, but you’d be surprised what a nose broken in the name of friendship can get you. Somebody owed me a favor, and that somebody being low on cash did the next best thing for me: got me into movies. Now, seeing movies for free is well and good, but really, EVERYONE gets to see Legion, or Sherlock Holmes. At that rate it would take a long time to get square, but tonight, the BTBC’s mole paid off and got me into the first test screening for The Fighter, the Micky Ward biopic starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams.
Now this movie was not in its finished state. Test screenings are done so that the filmmakers can get an idea of what’s working and what isn’t in the movie. After sitting for days, weeks, and months in the editing room, it helps to get a few hundred outside opinions to help gauge what’s working and what isn’t.
As the movie is right now… well, let’s say that it’s confused. It’s good, but confused.
First, the good:
For those of us who heard the Christian Bale tirade on the set of Terminator Salvation and were subsequently underwhelmed by yet another raspy badass will be very happy with Bale as Dick Ecklund, Ward’s washed up, crack addicted, half brother. The mind registers Bale when the film first opens, but after that initial realization, the viewer is lost in Bale’s full immersion into his character. I won’t say Oscar Bait since the movie hasn’t even come out yet, and it’s only January, but his performance is solid.
Amy Adams appears as Mickey Ward’s girlfriend (and eventual wife) Charlene. This was a fine turn for the actress who many first noticed in the Disney flick Enchanted. She was delightful in that film and she’s gritty in this one. Charlene is a sexy, tough, broad. Adams isn’t in this role for the glamor. Charlene isn’t a Disney princess. Seeing Amy Adams throw back a shot of whiskey, punch a girl in the nose, and call a bar patron a “cheap fuck”, makes my heart jump the way Micky’s must have. She is a man’s woman!
Lowell, Massachusetts is a pile. I’m sorry for all of you who love your hometown, but if it’s anything like it is depicted in this film, than I’ll stay out west. This city is as much a character in the film as Bale and Wahlberg. At times, it felt as if they just stuck the two principals in the middle of this working class town and turned the cameras on.
Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward. I don’t know what to say. I don’t think that it was bad, or bland, or that Wahlberg didn’t do it justice. I have this feeling that Ward is such a nice guy in real life that aside from his fights, he takes a supporting role to his trainwreck of a family. It shows in the film. Ward is, sadly, a pushover. His family is so over the top (or, I dread to speculate, completely accurate) that the soft-spoken Micky plays second fiddle to a controlling mother and a hyperactive, crack-addict brother. It seems that all the battle goes on around the poor guy between family and friends so constantly that the only time he gets to spend some quality time alone is when he’s in the ring.
What’s wrong with the film:
Now remember THE FILM IS NOT YET COMPLETE. These issues might get fixed. Other issues probably won’t.
My first issue (the same that I had with the script when that got leaked) is that it ends with Ward becoming “world junior-welterweight champion.” I’m sorry, but the WBU hardly counts. I love you, Micky, and I know you’re proud of this, but you winning the WBU title is not why I loved you as a fighter. The script and film ends with the Shea Neary fight. Like he won that fight and then all was well and good afterward. Let’s just forget about Jessie James Leija, and let’s not worry about your subsequent 3 fights of the year.
For a film about The Fighter, there sure isn’t a lot of fighting. The boxing sequences are accurate for the most part, but they don’t last very long. Watching them in the movie seems to somehow lack the impact of watching them on a fuzzy bootleg DVD. The fights are few and far between for a film about a guy with 51 damn fights. We get one fight during Ward’s losing streak, another against some journeyman while he’s on the comeback trail, the Sanchez fight and then the Neary fight.
Irritatingly, the Sanchez fight is sold in the movie as the fight that gets Ward a shot at Neary. Vince Phillips and Zab Judah don’t exist in this alternate reality. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t need to see every damn fight, but I’d like to think that The Fighter fought more than he did.
I would think that dropping Sanchez could lead to a 15 minute segment running through fighters like Kirk Douglas in Champion, but no, it doesn’t. I find this frustrating because so much time is spent on his problems with his family that his fights play second fiddle.
I think that this is my main concern for the film. It simply is not sure what it wants to do. If it wasn’t called The Fighter and was just about Ward trying to make it big despite his family, then it would be a very good movie. This imaginary film would not end with him beating Neary, but using that fight to reach better things and getting the money that he needs to get a bigger place and get some more time with his daughter. His daughter seems like an important character in the film, but she is forgotten in this confused pre-screening version.
Now in a different version of The Fighter, the family drama is second to Ward as a warrior. Neary happens halfway through the film, but we get to see him fight Leija and lose his belt; we get to see him with Larry Merchant begging for a big money fight. Ward’s true victory is his trilogy with Arturo Gatti. He fights his heart out. He leaves it all in the ring. He loses two of three but we love him and he wins anyway because GODDAMN that guy can fight. It ends with him finally having the money to rise above Lowell ghettos and laying asphalt. He gets more time with his daughter and marries Charlene. During the credit scroll, we see a replay of Gatti-Ward 1 RD9 and as the credits finish, we see Ward and Gatti chatting in their hospital beds.
Is this a bad movie?
Simply put: no.
This movie is unfinished and a bit confused. But the performances are very solid, the setting is authentic and the boxing is accurate (with the exception of some Hollywood drama in the Neary fight). My main concern is that either it’s a movie about boxing or a movie about a fighter’s family. Right now as both it seems like it can’t do one without neglecting the other. I will see it in its finished incarnation sometime later this year and promise to pay full price.
For us Die-Hards, prepare to cringe if they don’t get Jim Lampley to do the extra voice over work. Right now they have a sound a-like filling in extra commentary and it is stomach turning.
The coverage of the endings of both Neary and Sanchez are pretty much dead on. I thoroughly appreciate that… now if they could just inject the fights with the excitement of the real thing.
The audience seemed to love a lot of the film despite its 2.5 hour running time.
Keep an eye out for Amy Adams’ transparent bra. If boxing, crack and dysfunctional families aren’t your thing, then you’ve got to love her fantastic breasts.
The subplot with Ward’s daughter is so important that either they give it more time or they just dump it altogether. As it is right now, it’s unfinished business.
I’ll say it again, Christian Bale’s performance is amazing.
Everybody who isn’t a big time actor seems completely authentic.