Fighter, The (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus gets back in the ring with The Fighter and gets knocked out again...
The Fighter is a look at real life boxers "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). We meet the pair after Dicky’s heyday in the ring is over due to his crack-cocaine addiction and Micky’s career is only to be the stepping stone for other boxers to defeat in order for them to move up the ranks. Dicky is Micky’s coach and with his management being his mother Alice (Melissa Leo), Micky’s prospects of being anything more seem unlikely. That is until he breaks away from the family and forges his own path to the top but with a family bond this strong Micky struggles to see his decision through.
The Fighter’s UK release seems a long time coming. It feels like months since I saw this movie and the US home release seems like ages ago as well. If I’m honest I assumed this release had been and gone. The Fighter. There’s nothing like a good sports movie is there? And at the top of that genre, the boxing movie seems to be the one with the most... well... punch. Winning against the odds, wrapping us up in all those personal problems and beating them in the ring is the stuff “feel good” is made of and The Fighter has all that in spades.
It’s hard to pinpoint why The Fighter is such a highlight for me in the 2011 line up and the genre because honestly it doesn’t bring all that much new to the table in regards to story. In fact, even having it based on real people doesn’t even seem all that special in the sports movie world but somehow the combination of Wahlberg, Bale, Adams and the entire extended family (man, those sisters are something aren’t they?) makes The Fighter shine for me.
Wahlberg’s central performance is one of his best to date. I wouldn’t say he does anything extraordinary (outside of his believable boxing skills) but David O. Russell seems to be able to get Wahlberg out of his shell a little bit more than other directors (their previous work together has shown the same great results, I especially loved Marky Mark in I Heart Huckabees) and while his role here is pretty straight forward and more akin to Wahlberg’s screen personality, he still makes you want to see him win and Wahlberg’s silence a lot of the time makes you feel the struggles with his family more. Adam Adams proves to be a great pairing too. It’s great seeing the cutesy Princess Giselle disappear entirely and have her taking no shit from the Ward family. Her fight scene with the sisters is awesome!
The big draw for me here is Bale. I generally like Bale as an actor and I can’t really think of any of his movies I haven’t liked. He’s always reliable, always punching above his weight and seems to be striving to find something stronger in most of his characters, so seeing him here playing something very different is fantastic. Usually, to me anyway, Bale plays a threat in films. Maybe not that on the nose but he always seems like he can switch on to something nasty or something darker at the drop of a hat in most of his roles. Seeing him here, playing a liability is really key to what makes this performance so memorable and what made the performance totally worthy of the Oscar win. Not only is Dicky messing his own life up he’s unintentionally taking his brother down with him and however bad that is you still can’t help but like the guy and understand his inability to kick his habits is something he has no control over. On top of that the funnier side to this character is brilliant (I find the moments where he jumps out of the rear window to avoid his family absolutely classic stuff). His warmth when he talks about his brother and his own career feels genuine and really this is probably the most enjoyable performance of Bale's career.
This DVD doesn’t look all that great. The transfer never looks that sharp and the intended raw look to the film isn’t captured all that well on this standard definition release. Wide shots look soft and real detail is lost in pretty much every scene. Colours can also look a little too warm. Skin tones have a pinky feel and while the warmth works for the style of the film it counters the rawness of the look of the film from time to time, especially with clothing.
The real issue here is that there's no real sharpness. There’s no depth to the transfer and by the time we get to the scan line filled digital boxing scenes, the image just suffers from the lack of HD power and seems to be another example of studios not really putting the effort in with the DVD releases anymore.
The basics here are kept quite subdued with dialogue holding the biggest presence in the track a lot of the time. Music in montages and the oomph in some of the fights really bring the Dolby Digital 5.1 track to life though. Atmospherics in bigger scenes are there but rarely show off, crowds at the fights are kept to the rears and are rarely dynamic and really the only layering is the bickering between family members, where if you listen carefully, you can follow each of the participants quite clearly if you focus on them rather than losing them in the discussions/arguments.
The disc opens with trailers for The Mechanic, Red Hill, Limitless and Wrigley’s Extra gum (is there no escaping commercials?). The Fighter extras starts with the commentary with David O. Russell. The track almost has the feel of a documentary as the structure of the film seems to have been decided after the fairly fast and loose shoot. O. Russell has a lot of respect for his subjects and their family and often cites them as sources of the facts he’s giving us rather than just reeling them off. The track isn’t consistently well paced but it’s very insightful about the shoot and offers a good feel for how The Fighter was made.
‘The Warriors Code: Filming the Fighter' (28:44) features the real Dicky and Micky (which is a great excuse to compare Bale and Wahlberg’s performances against) and the cast and crew discussing what the film is about. The history of the family, the boxing stories and the story's development to reach the screen. It’s a fairly typical structure but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Wahlberg’s dedication to the boxing elements are pretty damn impressive. Seeing real Dicky training Wahlberg is just great stuff and seeing Bale in character and then seeing a more expected Bale in interviews really shows off the transformation he made.
‘Keeping the Faith’ (08:11) focuses more on the family and gives a deeper history pre-movie. It’s not all that long but seeing all these family members and friends adds a little more to connection to their characters.
Lastly, there are deleted scenes (four of which feature optional commentary from O. Russell) (02:22) and the trailer (02:27)
Watching The Fighter again proved I liked this movie a whole bunch. I really enjoy the sort of love story between the two brothers and both Wahlberg and Bale play to their strengths pitch perfectly. On top of that the supporting cast really fills out the story and makes for a movie I think I could rewatch with ease. The Fighter started high on my 2011 list and at this stage I can see it ending there too. The disc has a fine set of features and a pretty good audio track, it's just a shame the video looks a bit too shabby to wholeheartedly recommend this release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 20th June 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, making of, deleted scnes, featurette, trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: David O.Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Malissa Leo
Genre: Drama and Sport
Length: 115 minutes
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