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“The Fighter,” Reviewed

“The Fighter,” Reviewed (photo)

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You need two things to be a great boxer: technique and heart. Knowing how to throw a punch won’t get you very far if you also don’t know how to take one. Acting is the same way: all the technical proficiency in the world will get you nowhere if you can’t use it to move the audience.

Christian Bale is the rare kind of actor who has that Muhammad Ali-esque blend of technique and heart. His accents are impeccable and his ability to mold his body for a role, whether it’s gaining muscle for Batman or withering away to play a sickly insomniac in “The Machinist,” is remarkable. But all of the physical stuff is just the window dressing that enables him to connect with his characters on a deeper emotional level. To play washed up boxer Dickie Eklund in “The Fighter” Bale perfected a Boston accent, became a convincing physical trainer, and dropped a ton of weight again, but none of that is as impressive as the moment near the end of the film where he simply sits on a couch and fights back tears as he talks about how proud he is of his brother.

His brother — technically his half-brother, since they only share a mother — is “Irish” Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg. Though Micky is a talented fighter in his own right, he’s lived his entire life in his older brother’s shadow and though “The Fighter” is ostensibly a biopic about Micky, Wahlberg spends the entire movie in Bale’s. Though Micky has the comeback, Dickie is the one who gets redemption. He’s the guy who faces his demons (drug addiction, self-pity) and becomes a stronger man. He’s the guy who has the film’s biggest confrontation with Micky’s tempestuous girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams). There’s a tension in “The Fighter” about who it’s ultimately about, Micky or Dickie, that would make other films feel sloppy or unfocused. But since that same tension defined the relationship between Dickie and Micky in real life, it only makes sense that it would also define the movie about that relationship.

The film is called “The Fighter” but it’s too bad there already was a “Cinderella Man” because that title would have worked better. Not only was Micky Ward’s life a cinderella story, his own family treated him less like a blood relative than a live-in employee. His mother and manager Alice (Melissa Leo) and his seven sisters count on Micky as the breadwinner, and there are times where they seem far more concerned about a fight purse than the health of their son and brother. When one of Micky’s opponents drops out of a match at the last second, the only available replacement is a man twenty pounds heavier than Micky. In boxing terms, that’s basically suicide. Micky doesn’t want to fight, but if he doesn’t, nobody gets paid. So he fights, or more accurately, he accepts a merciless beating.

Until a hokey third act reversal, Alice is portrayed by Leo as bit of a monster: a cold mooch who exploits her son’s talents while doting on his crackhead brother. And Micky’s shrill sisters are her squad of big-mouthed, big-haired yes men. Though “The Fighter” ultimately affirms the importance of the bond between Dickie and Micky, it also doesn’t shy away from the fact that Micky’s greatest enemy is his bloodsucking entourage. Which is interesting when you consider that Wahlberg is the executive producer and inspiration for the television series “Entourage,” a feel-good show about the pleasures of having a group of people you spend every day with and who depend on you for their livelihood. “The Fighter” plays at times like Wahlberg’s rejection of the values he celebrated in “Entourage.” I don’t know; maybe he’s gotten sick of buying cars for people or something.

The film was directed by David O. Russell, the man who made “I Heart Huckabees” and the brilliant Iraq war thriller “Three Kings.” He places most of his attention on Ward with his family, which is amusingly deranged in a way that reminded me a little of the family his earlier film “Flirting With Disaster.” Instead of stylizing Micky’s fights “Raging Bull”-style, Russell goes for naturalism: using TV cameras and setups to capture the big bouts, even employing the real HBO analysts who covered Ward’s matches in real life and having them recite the actual commentary they said the first time around. As a result, the boxing looks and sounds a lot like the real thing (the matches in the film are on YouTube if you want to compare) and I suspect that over time “The Fighter” will accrue a cult following among boxing aficionados as a rare film that got the sport they love right.

Like the Eklunds and Wards, “The Fighter” is a bit of a mess. It’s sloppy and it takes a while to get its act together. Once it does, though, it works, and the big fights between Micky and Alfonso Sanchez and Shea Neary send that tingle up your spine that you demand from any good inspirational sports movie. Still, “The Fighter” belongs to Bale, who will almost certainly get an Oscar nomination for his performance, and deservedly so. I would say he’s unforgettable as Dickie Eklund, but in this case, the opposite would be a bigger compliment. Most actors have baggage. They carry their great roles around with them throughout their careers. When we watch Harrison Ford, we’re always watching Indiana Jones and Han Solo too. But Bale somehow manages to make every performance feel like his debut. He slips so completely inside his characters, we lose the actor and see only the person he’s playing. Bale’s so good, and he’s always so good, that he’s totally forgettable.

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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…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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