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AFI Fest 2010: “The Fighter,” Reviewed

AFI Fest 2010: “The Fighter,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 AFI Fest.

In his introduction to “The Fighter,” Mark Wahlberg mentioned no less than four times how hard he worked to get the film made, even telling the audience that he’d mow lawns and shovel shit for two hours for anyone who didn’t enjoy the film. In case that didn’t endear himself to those assembled for the secret screening at the Mann’s Chinese, he killed with the opening line, “I haven’t seen a crowd like this since I performed with the Funky Bunch.”

While one can see all four years of training onscreen in the biceps of Wahlberg’s Micky Ward, if there was one wish I had as I watched “The Fighter,” it would be that his third collaboration with “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabee’s” director David O. Russell was a little more funky. As it stands, wobbles and gives as good as it gets, “The Fighter” is a sturdy piece of entertainment that adds a wrinkle to the traditional underdog tale by having Ward’s greatest battles come from within his own family.

Nearly an hour passes between Ward’s first and second fights in the film, spent largely shaking off the pull of his domineering momager Alice (Melissa Leo) and his drug-addled half-brother Dickie (Christian Bale), who once was a promising boxer himself until he became addicted to drugs. It’s by design that Ward is marginalized by the two, whose plans for Micky’s career are selfishly devised and in some part meant to further Dickie’s flagging career, and though Ward is given some backbone by a local bartender he falls for (Amy Adams), it’s not surprising how often he says he wants to quit.

11102010_TheFighterWahlberg.jpgYet as far as the film is concerned, this seems to have an unfortunate trickle down effect on Wahlberg, who’s mostly passive as the dutiful son while his co-stars Leo and Bale run roughshod with thick Bawston accents and in Bale’s case, a live-wire energy that’s equally (and accurately) beguiling and maddening as a crack addict. Boxing fans might appreciate this particular dynamic since the real-life Ward was famous for his ability to do the rope-a-dope, a technique that’s hinted at during the film’s fight sequences, but it’s an odd requirement for Wahlberg outside the ring as the film’s lead where he can only wait out Leo and Bale as they chew the scenery. (Odder still, the one aspect of Ward’s character that isn’t unquestionably saintly — his relationship with the mother of his young daughter who despises him — is largely left unexplored.)

Typically, patience is a virtue in Russell’s films, where the gradual discomfort of long scenes give way to something authentic, and in fact, the film’s richest scene — a showdown in the Wards’ living room after Micky suggests he changes trainers from his brother to a Vegas professional that devolves into a personal attack on his new girlfriend — seems to have evolved out of his tried-and-true methods. However, “The Fighter” is the first film Russell isn’t credited with writing himself and it’s telling that the film is far more visually idiosyncratic than it is narratively. The collision of screenwriter Scott Silver’s strident dialogue against cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s wandering camera that has an Altman-esque desire to look around every corner results in a naturalistic-looking film that doesn’t entirely feel natural. Instead, it’s a rah-rah crowdpleaser defined most by the blaring horn section of the Dap Kings’ remix of The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now” after every one of Ward’s victories and the inclusion of a traditional training montage before Ward gets his shot at the title.

Certainly, that’s no reason to dismiss “The Fighter,” which hits all the beats a film like this should and rises above its station with strong performances from Bale, Leo and Adams, who is let loose to play against type and curse up a storm while still occasionally batting those wide eyes with a tinge of red around them. That should come as good news for Wahlberg since he won’t have to get out the lawnmower, but also don’t expect him to be pulling out an Oscar speech anytime soon, either.

“The Fighter” opens in limited release on December 10th before expanding on December 17th.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…