It would be easy to dismiss David O. Russellâ€™s The Fighter as some sort of Rocky clone all wrapped up in a pretty little based-on-a-true-story bow. But in reality, the only similarity the two films really share is the liberal use of boxing as a metaphor. The Fighter still manages to hit all the right sports movie notes, but it’s more than just an inspirational tale about a blue collar Massachusettsâ€™s road worker taking one last shot at glory in the boxing ring. At the filmâ€™s core, itâ€™s a dysfunctional family drama thatâ€™s sure to generate a few Oscar nods. Â
It would be easy to dismiss David O. Russell’s The Fighter as some sort of Rocky clone all wrapped up in a pretty little based-on-a-true-story bow. But in reality, the only similarity the two films really share is the liberal use of boxing as a metaphor. The Fighter still manages to hit all the right sports movie notes, but it's more than just an inspirational tale about a blue collar Massachusetts’s road worker taking one last shot at glory in the boxing ring. At the film’s core, it’s a dysfunctional family drama that’s sure to generate a few Oscar nods.
The Fighter centers around “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a on-again, off-again boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts looking to take make one last run in the ring with the help of his half-brother and trainer, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer who is considered to be the “Pride of Lowell” for his 1978 fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in which he went the distance, even knocking the legend down once. The years following this bout have been less than kind to Dickie, and struggles with an addiction to crack cocaine forced his retirement. As the film opens, Micky and Dickie are gallivanting down the streets of Lowell, being showered with attention by the town’s residents thanks mostly to a documentary film crew accompanying the two brothers. Dickie explains that the cameras are there to record his big comeback, so addled from years of drug abuse that he’s unaware — or just in outright denial — that they’re actually filming him for a documentary about crack addiction.
Dickie isn’t the only one seemingly dismissive of his drug problem. The boys’ mother Alice (Melissa Leo) seems keen to turn a blind eye to her eldest son’s descent as long as it means she can continue to live off Dickie’s past glory — a fact that becomes abundantly clear when she arrives at the local gym dolled up in her Sunday’s best with scrapbooks in tow, begging the camera crew to talk to her while simultaneously attempting to take attention away from the fact that Dickie is nearly three hours late to one of Micky’s training sessions.
The Fighter establishes this toxic family dynamic very early in the film, as Micky’s desire to succeed is at constant odds with his loyalty to his family. Both Alice (who is also acting as his manager) and Dickie continually push him into fights in which he’s outmatched and unprepared, while father George (Jack McGee) wishes for Micky to accept an offer to be professionally trained in Las Vegas. It’s only until a third voice, Charlene (Amy Adams), is introduced that Micky stop treading water and attempts to move forward. In many ways, Charlene becomes Micky’s voice when he is unable to stand up to his overbearing family.
The Fighter is rife with terrific performances. I suppose I’ll start with Amy Adams, who gives a rather surprising effort as Charlene. An actress typically known for more light and bubbly affair, Adams channels her innermost Marisa Tomei circa-My Cousin Vinny and absolutely blows the doors off of every scene she’s in. Melissa Leo’s is as equally unexpected — Leo’s slimy and selfish turn as Alice Ward is wonderfully hateable. When Adams and Leo end up sharing the same scene, the verbal jousting is just as intense as any of the movies boxing sequences. One or both of these ladies could find themselves in contention for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar come this February.
Mark Wahlberg proves once again that he can be a capable actor under proper direction. He delivers an understated performance in the lead role, telling much of the story with the torment on his face. And then there’s Christian Bale as Dickie. I would be completely shocked if Christian Bale doesn’t garner an Oscar nomination for his role in this film. Bale’s slurry and twitchy Dickie is tragic and captivating, a man broken by years of in-ring punishment and out-of-ring drug abuse, still clinging to his fifteen minutes. When footage of the real-world Dickie Eklund is played during The Fighter's closing credits, you’ll truly appreciate the dedication Bale brought to the role.
Overall Score: 8.60 – Spectacular. (Movies that score between 8.50 and 9.00 are some of the best films its genre has ever created, and fans of any genre will thoroughly enjoy them.)
A dysfunctional family drama first and a boxing movie second, The Fighter flourishes with Oscar-worthy performances from Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.