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24.2.11

For Your Consideration: 'The Fighter'

The Fighter, directed by David O. Russell (whose last feature film was I ♥ Huckabees, in 2004), is the true story of boxer Micky Ward, who came out of a down period in his career to stage a remarkable comeback. The film follows this extraordinary story, how Ward overcame the interfering "support" of his family to win a junior welterweight title, but stops before he gets to his most famous fights -- three knock-down, drag-out matches against Arturo Gatti. It is an excellent movie, worthy of its nomination for an Academy Award as Best Picture, although it does not seem likely to edge out The King's Speech at this Sunday's ceremony. (If our ongoing Oscar poll is any indication, the competition will come down to The King's Speech and The Social Network.)

The movie is likely to get at least one award, it seems, and it may fall to Christian Bale, nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role as Micky's half-brother Dicky, an older, washed-up fighter who is so addicted to crack that a documentary film crew is recording his activities for a film about the effects of crack addiction. Bale is gaunt and pale (as memorable a face as ever, all the way back to his childhood star role in Empire of the Sun), a battered shell caught in a self-perpetuating family cycle. Between him and their mother, Alice, played with trashy savagery by Melissa Leo, and a grotesque gallery of toady sisters, Micky has almost no room to breathe. Leo received a Best Supporting Actress nomination, as did Amy Adams for her role as Micky's strong-willed girlfriend: neither seems likely to win the award with both Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) in the running. (I think that the best performance, although unlikely to win, is by Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom.)


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The nomination that stands out by its absence is for Mark Wahlberg, who is admirably on target in the title role. Wahlberg grew up in working-class Massachusetts in a big family, and had run-ins with the police in his life, not unlike Micky Ward. There is something brutish, not to say unnuanced, about Walhberg's performance, and his famous physique, beefed up appropriately, is entirely believable for the character. David O. Russell was also nominated for Best Director, but the film falls short of his most memorable work, more comically oriented films like Three Kings and Spanking the Monkey. The same goes for the screenplay, seemingly written by committee with credits going to Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and the dialogue rings true as an evocation of working class Lowell, Mass., if at times it is also more prosaic than not. As for the final Oscar nomination, Best Achievement in Editing, that is anyone's guess.

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