Fighting Talk: Hollywood Just Got Ugly

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Half-brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) are both boxers. The elder, Dicky, is now retired from professional boxing and spends his time sauntering around the streets, being, in his own words, “the pride of Lowell”, the Massachusetts town where he grew up and still resides. Dicky is training Micky, but unfortunately for Micky, Dicky is now a crack-addled mentalist so, as might be expected, Micky’s career isn’t exactly taking off. 

The Fighter, we immediately learn, is set in 1993, so if you squint it’s almost got the feel of an American Apparel ad-campaign. But instead of lithe youngsters heavily dosed up on irony, there’s just a whole load of normal people wearing grey marl cycling shorts. Hence the entire thing looks depressingly ugly. Seeing what has become a marketable aesthetic in the 21st century (a man in a vest with a boombox, someone wearing two types of denim in a crack den) in its sad reality did make me question what exactly it is that the fashion industry is trying to sell us. 

The all-pervading ugliness of the film was obviously a stylistic choice, but combined with the fact that things got ugly (violence-wise) many, many times, I found myself wishing there was something nice to look at. The scenes where the brothers stride powerfully through the Lowell streets almost achieve that feeling of movie-euphoria, but in the end it never quite materialises. 

The focus of the film was on a particular sort of culture – that of the Irish-American family. We witnessed the perpetuation of the figure of the aggressive, self-destructive male. Dicky’s son, after seeing his father punch a locker in rage, does the same except in a vaguely spooky, lacklustre way, like an oversized doll. Clichéd and patronising moments like this lack the subtlety that could have made the film more emotionally engaging. 

The emotional ‘issue’ the film hinged upon was the potentially unbearable realisation that the ones you love can be a burden. But instead of being confronted head-on this was neatly tied up by the plot, leaving the audience with pretty much nothing to think about. There wasn’t even any real attention to detail. Near the end of the film we were unconvincingly ‘transported’ to London via little more than an establishing shot of a red bus and someone doing a bad impersonation of a British journalist. 

Despite the barrage of Academy Award nominations, Wahlberg was the only major cast member not to get an Oscar nod. He was instrumental in getting the film made, though, which explains how he managed to get the part. Unless Micky Ward really has absolutely no distinctive characteristics whatsoever, unless he is literally a blank canvas of a man, Wahlberg’s performance was dullness personified. It’s based on a true story, by the way, a fact the film seems to think lends itself a reason for existence. Bale on the other hand, a late casting decision, put in an incredibly charismatic performance. 

Yes, it wasn’t pretty, but more importantly the film totally failed to engage me in any way. The Fighter, unfortunately, was all brawn and no brains.