Director: David O.Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee
Boxing films, more often than not, have received critical acclaim and award recognitions over the years. Films like Raging Bull, Rocky, Million Dollar Baby and Cinderella Man are usually champs at awards season and favourite picks of movie critics. After all, everyone loves a story about a man overcoming the odds (in Million's case, a woman) to become a world champion inside the squared circle.
So now we add The Fighter to that esteemed list.
The Fighter is a true story set in the 90s and focuses on 'Irish' Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling boxer who hasn't had a win for a while now, and is mainly used as a stepping stone for other boxers. Micky is trained by his half brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and managed by their mother Alice (Melissa Leo).
Though Dicky and Alice care a lot about Micky's career, they don't seem to know the right way to help him. Dicky, a former boxer himself, is a cocaine addict who can't seem to keep himself out of trouble. Alice on the other hand is stubborn and too proud to see her own flaws. When Micky loses another fight thanks to Dicky and Alice's bad advice, Micky decides to listen to his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) and find a new trainer.
This move results in Micky finally picking up some victories in the ring. But as the old saying goes, blood is thicker than water, and Dicky, who has always been Micky's best friend, in and out of the ring, eventually re-enters the picture. And sparks fly.
I have to give credit to director David O.Russell and Wahlberg who also produces the film, for coming up with a story that is a bit different from the usual boxing movie. Yes, we still have the same tale of a boxer working from the bottom and eventually becoming champion, but The Fighter focuses on his family's influence, how it shapes him and damn nearly destroys him. The drama isn't in the road to the top, it's in the many situations Micky's family get themselves into. The family is severely flawed, everyone except Micky thinks they know what is best for him, but they don't. And when you add Charlene the bartender girlfriend into the mix, it just gets better and better.
Wahlberg successfully grounds the film by being the humble hero Micky Ward. But it's Bale that steals the show as Dicky. I gotta tell ya, Bale has finally been given the recognition he deserves with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He's always been a great actor, but here he's phenomenal. For probably the third time, Bale loses considerable weight to play a junkie, but that's not what's great about him. Bale puts in an excellent performance to convincingly play Dicky, a washed out boxer who cares a lot for his brother, but has trouble turning over a new leaf for his sake. Bale really disappears into the role, and it's just awesome.
Amy Adams also puts in great effort as Charlene, which is a total about turn from her previous roles. The princess in Enchanted? The nun in Doubt? Gone. What we have here is an expletive slinging bartender who isn't afraid to take on her boyfriend's family head on. Her Oscar nomination is well earned. Melissa Leo is the actress that wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar over Adams, and I must say she is just as good with her role as Alice, the matriarch of the family. For the better part of the story, Alice seems kinda cruel, but once you get to the end, you'll realise she's just a tad misguided, and she just doesn't know what's best for her son. Special mention goes out to Jack McGee as George Ward, the long suffering patriarch of the family.
Credit must be given to the production design for the very authentic look of 90s Lowell, Massachusetts, a small town with blue collar type society. The cinematography also has its moments of genius, with the fight scenes being filmed with a grainy look matching an old TV set transmission.
Overall I really enjoyed The Fighter. It has chockful of great performances and the script is brilliant. I'm not a boxing fan, yet I liked it very much. Recommended. (4/5)