Mark Wahlberg has been known to have beef with other celebrities. Director David O. Russell’s meltdown on the set of I Heart Huckabees is legendary. And to say Christian Bale is a bit intense is like saying Kanye West thinks highly of himself (that’s an understatement). Put all three volatile men in a boxing ring and what do you get? One of the best pictures of 2010.
The Fighter tells the true story of the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts, famous and infamous boxing brothers “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and Dickie Eklund (Bale). Eklund was an upcoming, promising fighter who once knocked down the iconic Sugar Ray Leonard. When his career didn’t pan out the way it was expected, he became a crackhead and trainer to his younger brother Micky.
The Fighter is a look at the lives of the brothers during the 1990′s when Micky was trying to earn his shot and Dickie was immersed in the streets of Lowell. The movie starts out showing an HBO crew following Dickie who he thinks is filming him for a documentary about his boxing comeback. In reality HBO is making a documentary about the evil of crack cocaine titled High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell (which if you haven’t seen is a much watch).
Dickie, the pride of Lowell, is still a local celebrity who everyone in town loves even though they know he’s nothing, but a junkie at this point. Micky is set to fight in Atlantic City, but when he gets there his opponent is sick and he must fight a man who has 20 pounds on him. After getting beaten badly, Micky starts to re-assess the people in charge of his career and meets a female bartender (Amy Adams) who he soon falls in love with. After Dickie is arrested for the 20+ time, he is sent to prison for assault, theft, hitting a cop among many other charges. Micky’s career starts to build with new management and without his brother in his corner which causes turmoil in the family.
Micky wins a big fight thanks to Dickie’s fight plan in prison and he finally gets a title shot. Dickie is released from prison and the people controlling Micky’s career are worried that with Dickie’s influence he could lose the momentum. Micky and his team including Dickie, fly to England for his title shot which could make him a legend or just another has-been like his brother.
The Fighter is everything you want in a film. It’s dramatic, unexpectedly hilarious, heart-warming and an underdog story of redemption and resurrection. It has fantastic performances from Amy Adams, Rescue Me’s Jack McGee and who’s having a better supporting year than Melissa Leo? Leo, playing Alice, Micky and Dickie’s mother, is great again this year like she was in Conviction and Welcome to the Rileys. But the two stars of the film are what make The Fighter.
Mark Wahlberg was once a white rapper/model named Marky Mark who morphed into Hollywood money in the bank. Whether indie films like Boogie Nights or blockbusters like The Departed, Mark continues to prove his critics wrong. Mark and Micky’s story almost parallel themselves. Mark grew up in a city with good and bad streets, a more famous bother who he struggled to get out from his shadow and eventually surpassed with more talent (sorry Donnie).
You can hand best supporting actor to Christian Bale right now. There will not be a better performance from an actor the rest of the year. Bale plays a better crackhead than a crackhead does. Nobody gives more or dedicates himself more to a role than Bale who once again loses a lot of weight (The Machinist anyone?) for this movie.
With eyes sunken in his head, skinny face and mouth open, junkie jaw, Bale is mesmerizing as Dickie. Just like his The Dark Knight co-star Heath Ledger, every second of film that Bale is in, your eyes automatically focus on him. From the first second you see Bale’s Dickie in the opening of The Fighter to his moments with his son to the end when he’s in Micky’s corner, all you see is acting at its finest. Whether he’s sparring with Micky, running through the streets with his friends or jumping out of crack house windows, Bale is engaging, comical (which is a first), and near flawless.
The only negative with the film, if there has to be one, is that it only mentions Micky’s epic battles with the late Arturo Gatti. Maybe film can’t do justice to what could be three of the greatest fights in the history of boxing. If you haven’t seen them, find them online, on DVD, on an old VHS tape, whatever.
The Fighter’s story isn’t just a story of a boxer. It’s a story of a family, a neighborhood, a city. Just like Dickie and Micky, Lowell was once down and now on the rise. The brothers are still the pride of Lowell, but The Fighter gives the city another reason to lift its head up from the gutters. Russell, Wahlberg and Bale have an absolutely, brilliant winner of a film.
The Fighter was released on December 8th, 2010
Ken Murray also reviews for The Boston Movie Examiner, check out his reviews here.