David O. Russell, Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, all working together on one film. Boy would I have loved to been on the set for that. You knew the three would make a great film though, despite whatever went on behind the scenes. And while The Fighter may not be the future Best Picture winner that everyone is making it out to be, it is undoubtedly a very strong film and extremely well acted.
The Fighter tells the true story of two brothers, both boxers. Irish-American Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts. Dicky is a boxer, most well known for his fight against Sugar Ray Leonard. Dicky is a has-been though, now his habits include petty crimes and drugs. As Terry Malloy would say, Dicky ‘coulda been a contender.’
Dicky’s brother, Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is also a boxer but hasn’t had any real success. Constantly looking for one more fight just so he can get paid, Micky has a pretty rough life.
With Dicky training him and his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) acting as his manager, Micky sets off to become a respectable fighter. Problems start to arise when Dicky’s drug habits render him unreliable and Alice starts making bad managerial decisions for Micky, such as booking him in fights he has no shot in, just to get the payday.
Micky’s girlfriend, Charlene, urges him to re-assess his life and consider moving away from his current team (Alice and Dicky) and to find new trainers and managers who can properly prepare him. Micky reluctantly agrees, which causes turmoil within his family. As Micky struggles to try and please everyone, and Alice and Charlene fight over control of his future, he also has to stay focused on his career as he could get a shot at the title sooner than he thinks.
The story has a very Rocky-esque feel to it and offers that same inspirational vibe, that just may have you cheering and clapping near the end. It’s a remarkable story and the fact that it’s true makes it all the more interesting. Even if you know what happens in the end, which I’m sure many people do, you’ll still be hooked the whole way through, sucked in by the engaging story and flawless acting. Sure, the shape of the narrative is vastly familiar and reminiscent of almost every other fight movie out there but the story is still told very well.
I think it’s fair to say that The Fighter boasts some of the best acting we’ve seen this year. Not many other films can compare to it. Each member of the main cast gives a tour de force and together they turn the film into something great.
Christian Bale is easily the strongest. In his role as Dicky he is a true revelation. His performance is sheer brilliance, nothing less. Losing a ton of weight for the role, he gives a performance that is raw, moving and astonishingly real. Bale wholly inhabits the character of Dicky and you get so lost in his performance that sometimes you forget you’re watching Bale on screen. His gaunt appearance makes him almost unrecognizable and it’s the best performance of his career, eclipsing his performance in American Psycho.
Bale simply aces the role. The physical and psychological challenges of the part are no match for him. He nails it all. As crack addict Dicky he gets it all right. The bugged out eyes constantly darting back and forth, the ticks and twitches, the splayed walk, everything. He brings a certain pathos to the character and you can’t help but to feel bad for him. It’s truly a remarkable performance and the man deserves some Oscar gold.
Melissa Leo is an actress who rarely gives a bad performance and this time isn’t any different. In The Fighter she is at the top of her game. Self-absorbed, raging and manipulative, she brings to Alice not only a devious side but she also brings heart to the role. We totally understand why she feels crushed when her son tells her she can’t manage him anymore and we feel her pain and sympathize with her.
Wahlberg’s performance is subtle, modest and passive. He’s almost a spectator and in some cases, it’s easy to forget the film is about his character Micky. He’s quiet and the role is anything but showy. That being said, he’s still excellent and like the others in the cast, gives his best performance to date. Constantly shot in states of worry and fear, we understand what Micky is going through, as Wahlberg subtly conveys the true Micky, the one that is hiding behind all the muscle and toughness on the exterior.
Playing against type, Adams is also very good in her role as Charlene, Micky’s girlfriend, constantly surprising us and proving herself in the role. Strong willed and determined she brings with her a strong screen presence and is a pleasure to watch in the film.
One would probably expect a lot of fighting in a film called The Fighter. While there is a lot of fighting, most of it is done outside the ring. To say Micky’s family is dysfunctional would be a massive understatement. These people are absolutely nuts and much of the conflict in the film comes from within the family or between the family and Charlene. Still though, this is a boxing film and there are a fair number of boxing scenes that we’re treated to.
David O. Russell stages the boxing scenes quite well. They aren’t terribly visceral but Russel deftly crafts them to be engaging and gripping. You feel the punches and soak in the tension. They also carry an interesting style to them, looking how you’d expect them to if you were watching PPV back in the 90’s. Russell uses grainy video and all, giving the boxing scenes a rather authentic feel.
Now as I said before, while it’s a strong film, it’s not Best Picture quality, and I’ll explain why. The Fighter has a few flaws that simply can’t be ignored.
Aside from suffering from a few cliches and trying too hard to give audiences the Hollywood style triumphant ending we’ve come to expect, the film also suffers from Russell’s direction.
The Fighter seems like every other boxing movie out there, which is actually quite surprising. Russell is a director who when on his game, gives his films a pretty unique and fresh feel, a la Three Kings. Here, he seems to be holding back, afraid to break away from convention. As the film plays out on screen you can’t help but to feel it’s simply just playing it safe as it peacocks for awards.
Another one of the film’s weaknesses is that in portraying Micky as almost a pawn in the movie, a spectator in this circus of dysfunction, it’s hard to connect with him. He’s almost too quiet and too passive. It may be authentic and heartfelt but it’s hard to really feel moved at the end since we can’t really invest much in him as a character. This isn’t attributed to Wahlberg’s performance, it’s more just how Micky was portrayed in the film, as a man without much personality or charisma.
At the end of the day, The Fighter is a very strong film and the performances are all flawless. It suffers from a few flaws that hold it back from being a Best Picture contender, in my eyes at least, but it is still worth seeing and it’s definitely one of the better movies I’ve seen this year.
Superb performances and a well told story make The Fighter one of the year's best films.