Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, & Jack McGee
By Alex Towers
Boxing films with underdogs from the wrong side of the tracks aren’t exactly rare, but David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) has managed another excellent addition to the genre, thanks mostly to a terrific cast.
The Fighter is based on the true story of “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Walhberg), a welterweight boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts as he struggles towards a boxing world championship. In his hometown, Micky is largely overshadowed by his charismatic, but crack-addicted older brother and trainer Dicky Eklund, (Christian Bale), himself a former professional boxer.
What makes this film stand out from the wealth of other pugilist movies is how Russell avoids Rocky-eque clichés through focusing for the most part on Micky’s poisonous family life. Aside from his trainer’s drug addiction, Micky must also contend with his manipulative bitch of a mother (Melissa Leo) and seven amusingly malicious sisters. When not haranguing Micky about how best to manage his boxing career, his mother and sisters spend their time spitting venom at his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) and idolizing his older brother. While Dicky smokes crack to escape his life and indulge in nostalgia, Micky is slowly having the shit kicked out of him, not by an opponent, but by his relatives. Eventually the boxer realises that he can’t stay with his family and maintain a boxing career, and begins to try to abandon them in order to take a shot at the world title.
But where this film is really outstanding is the performances. Christian Bale has been getting the most attention for yet another astonishing physical transformation. But Bale also captures the pithy, sharp Boston dialogue and delivers it with such a bouncy, exuberance that you can’t help but like the character, even when he’s doing something despicable. Melissa Leo is also exceptional as the robust but contemptible mother of the Ward clan. With her platinum dye job, short denim skirts, steely glint and jaw constantly clenched around a cigarette, Leo would have strutted off with the film had she not been matched by Bale. That’s not to say that the rest of cast fall short: Amy Adams holds her own as Micky’s fiery barmaid girlfriend and Rescue Me’s Jack McGee earns a lot of laughs as the boxer’s belittled father. But the man who probably deserves the most praise is Mark Wahlberg. As Christian Bale said in his recent Golden Globe speech “you can only give a loud performance when you have a quiet anchor” and here Wahlberg shines as that quiet anchor. Understated and contemplative while everyone else is exploding around him, Wahlberg’s turn is one of quiet triumphance and means that The Fighter is a great film with excellent performances.
The trailer for The Fighter