Home Video Review: “The Fighter” Lives Up to the Hype

A lot of people complain that "Oscar movies" tend to be staid affairs that aren't concerned with whether or not you'll ever want to watch them more than once, or if you're entertained at all, for that matter. And most of the time, they're right. "The Fighter's" refusal to fit into this stereotype makes its arrival on Blu-ray and DVD all the more welcome.

A quick recap for the shut-ins: "The Fighter" stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale as Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, two real life Lowell, Massachusetts half-brothers with a shared passion for boxing. Dicky is a local hero, trading off a 1978 bout where he went the distance against "Sugar" Ray Leonard (and knocked the boxing legend down….or did he?). Unfortunately, he has long since put down his jump rope in favor of a crack pipe and his training sessions with the younger Ward have become increasingly more irregular. Add to the mix a controlling mother (Melissa Leo) and Ward's window for a legit shot at a title seems to be closing more and more each day. Boxing loyalists already know the rest of the story, newbies will be surprised, and both will be thoroughly entertained.

Director David O. Russell keeps the movie rolling with a surprising amount of humor ladled in among the sadness and desperation - "Rescue Me" star Jack McGee, as Micky's father, gets most of the great deadpan gags, but Bale really nails the overwhelming charisma that made it impossible for people to hate Dicky even at his worst. It's no wonder both Bale and Leo brought home Oscars, but the more intimate home-viewing environment makes it easier to appreciate Wahlberg in the lead role. Micky is a quiet character and the role doesn't really require Wahlberg to move much beyond his "naive, sweet-natured tough guy" comfort zone, but check out the scene [mild spoiler] after the Ward/Sanchez bout where Micky's happiness is tempered by the creeping realization that he really can't succeed without his wayward brother. It's completely wordless - Wahlberg let's it all play out on his face.

Russell also deserves credit for making the movie feel cliche-free, even if it does, when you break it down, trod well-worn boxing movie territory (being a true story, obviously, helps it feel less contrived). And Blu-ray owners will also cherish their hi-def home theater systems because the soundtrack is great.

The special features wisely focus on the still-kicking Dicky, who is just as wired and intense as Bale portrays him. The mini-doc "Keeping the Faith" is a brief but intriguing look at the real people behind the story (many of whom played themselves in the film) - but it ultimately feels like a teaser for a more in-depth doc. All the real footage of Dicky, however, goes a long way toward explaining why Bale was happier to be out drinking with the "Pride of Lowell" rather than sitting through James Franco and Anne Hathaway's opening Oscar number.

You also get a feature commentary from Russell, and a making-of featurette, but the Blu-ray feels a little rushed - obviously in an effort to get the discs on shelves in order to cash in on the Oscar aftermath. A dream "Collector's Edition" would include original broadcasts of Eklund vs. Leonard and a few choice Ward bouts, but we'll just have to see.

Don't miss this chance to pick up that rare Oscar-caliber movie you'll definitely want to watch again.

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