Notable Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee
Review: I’ve been silently awaiting David O. Russell’s The Fighter for a few months now, after reading a decent helping of buzz from Russell’s friends like Spike Jonez. Plus, who doesn’t love a good redemption film? This true story brought so much raw emotion, I could feel my investment in every one of the main character’s fights. Russell also manages to surprise with some humor in the most unlikely of places, adding a pleasurable change of pace during the course of the film. The Fighter was a true knockout, effecting me in a way no other movie has been capable of doing so far this year. Come awards season, expect The Fighter to pack a serious punch while being represented in numerous categories and KOing all opponents. (Sorry, just had to get all my boxing puns out early.)
Based on an original screenplay, The Fighter told the story of Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and his struggles to become a dominant presence in the boxing world. Living in the shadow of his brother Dicky Eklund (Bale), who was a former boxer dubbed “The Pride of Lowell.” Mickey trains hard to gain the recognition his brother achieved by knocking out Sugar Ray Leonard. His main problem turns out to be those closest to him though, plagued by his mother Alice’s (Leo) poor management/selfishness and his brother’s engulfing drug problem. After taking the fall over and over again for them, his new girlfriend, Charlene (Adams), tries to be the one to convince Mickey to worry about what is best for himself and not the people dragging him down. Mickey has to choose between the family values he regards so highly and seeking new and more focused management, while “betraying” the people he has trusted his whole life. But when Dickie ends up in jail trying to raise money to keep Mickey with the family, Mickey sees what “help” his family actually extends to him. Can Mickey break the abusive bonds that have been created between him and his family? Can Charlene be Mickey’s saving grace? Can Mickey navigate the road to redemption by himself? Success doesn’t come easy, a virtue The Fighter shows with great ease.
Let’t not waste time and get to the most spectacular part of the movie; the acting. Christian Bale not only overly impressed, but pretty much solidified himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the drug abusing former boxer, Dickie Eklund. The commitment Bale put into this role is not only based on the personality, but is physically visible by his sickly looking physique. It’s shocking to look at Bale in his last movie Public Enemies with his strong muscular physique, then seeing him here, almost being unrecognizable, looking almost like a skeleton but still being wiry strong. This isn’t something that happens overnight, and requires extreme dedication on the part of the actor. But that wasn’t even it. During the credits, a clip rolled where the camera was interviewing the real Mickey and Dickie. You could put Bale next to the real Dickie and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Bale mimicked Dickie down to the smallest detail; nailing his speech pattern, inserting the right amount of profanities just like Dickie did, capturing Dickie’s physical reactions and spastic movements, and all around just taking such an interesting real character and portraying every minute detail on-screen. Bale deserves all the credit he is getting/will get for his part as Dickie, and mark my words, Best Supporting Actor.
The rest of this perfect cast is also the glue that holds The Fighter together. Marky Mark embodied the role of a boxer, and did just as an amazing job in the ring as he did on the screen. The fights were super realistic and Wahlberg showed tremendous professionalism. He also showed off his lead actor chops and was one of the huge reasons you wanted to root for Mickey. Amy Adams diverges from her normal goody-two-shoes role and plays a foul-mouthed bartender, which is something she did surprisingly well. A true actress can morph into any role, which is exactly what Amy did. Melissa Leo plays Mickey and Dickie’s mother, a hilarious but brutal tough as nails woman, whose independence and self-pity bring out the worst in Mickey. But again, the role was beautifully acted. Both women have the possibility of finding themselves in the running for both Lead and Supporting Actress, an honor both would be deserving of. The rest of the cast is put together by familiar faces and strong presences, which round out a group of characters who we are able to connect with on a totally realistic level, while also being on a level of entertainment you love to watch.
Most of all though, The Fighter was a redemption film you loved to watch. How many times do you watch a redemption film fully knowing how it will end, and just lose interest halfway through? If not done right, no one cares about the redemption itself. You have to care about the struggling character and the story is what must make you do that. This is where The Fighter excels. Mickey’s family is just dysfunctional enough, but he also cares about them just enough for you to both sympathize and pity Mickey at the same time. At the same time, you’re waiting for Dickie to have that pivotal moment where he straightens out for Mickey’s sake, but then you start wondering if Dickie even can. I was clenching my fists and sitting on edge during every fight, waiting with bated breath for the knockout punch. This phenomenal script did a magnificent job making you WANT Mickey to succeed, instead of just making you WATCH Mickey try to succeed; the key to a perfect redemption.
Easily in my Top 5 films of the year, I can’t wait to see how The Fighter makes out in the awards ceremonies. Every major actor here has the potential to be honored, and some may even be favorites to win already. This is because the incredibly invested performances and the stirring human drama sucks you into Mickey’s world in an astonishingly moving way. The Fighter is, hands down, one of the best true redemption films I’ve seen to date, and an instant classic among boxing films.
Final Rating: 9.5 well fought rounds out of 10