From the NYT: "Mr. Wahlberg, for his part, leans back against the ropes and watches, underplaying so gracefully and with so little vanity that you almost forget that the movie is supposed to be about [his character] Micky."
At BNAT this past weekend, we were lucky enough to catch the new Mark Wahlberg picture THE FIGHTER. Judging by the trailer, we were a little afraid it might be just a schmaltzy underdog story, the kind of "inspiring" yarn that shows a pummeled pugilist down on his luck for the first 60 minutes only to get a shot - and win the title - in the last 30. We liked that movie the first ten times we saw it but we get it already.
Films like ROCKY and CINDERELLA MAN have their place. They hit us hard and have us on the edges of our seats and our fists in the air as we punch along with the dark horse. They're exciting. They're rousing. But that's not really THE FIGHTER. It's more.
Take it from us: THE FIGHTER isn't ROCKY. It's RAGING BULL. It's REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT. It's from the tradition that uses boxing to get at something bigger, that uses the most vicious and violent sport to explore some basic aspects of human nature. In THE FIGHTER, Mark Wahlberg's Micky Ward is a downhearted fighter with one last shot at glory, yes. But that storyline is subverted, transgressed, even perverted into a family maelstrom that pits brother vs. brother, mother vs. girlfriend, sister vs. sister, and all the variations therein. This is the heart of THE FIGHTER, a film that looks at the ugly face of a family that isn't quite working and makes us all examine our own clans.
And this is what reviewer A.O. Scott is talking about in his comments on the film's "protagonist." The film's dilemmas are so dynamic, and it steps so far away from the chump-to-champ story arc, that you realize this isn't really about Micky becoming a champ as much as it's about what's around Micky.
Part of this problem, and much of the confusion surrounding the picture, comes from the misleading trailer. The official trailer gives the film the ROCKY treatment by focusing on Wahlberg's character and presenting his story as a straightforward rising arc. That doesn't do this magnificent film justice.
Kevin Fallon over at the Atlantic composed an interesting piece about this, using THE FIGHTER as an example of a phenomenon becoming increasingly frequent, the misleading trailer that crops out a film's rough edges. Fallon likes this alternate trailer better, and so do we:
This trailer shows the very dark elements of the film. It shows why this is more than a cliched boxing picture, that it reaches into a different territory. This gives you a much better sense of why the film is topping critics top 10 lists and is getting new awards every day. If you miss THE FIGHTER because it looks too saccharine, you are making a grave mistake. More RAGING BULL than ROCKY, THE FIGHTER will leave you pleasantly surprised.