The Fighter is a biographical sports movie directed by David O. Russell.
We are introduced to professional welterweight boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (played by Marky-Mark Wahlberg) and his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (played by The Dark Knight’s Christian Bale). Under the coaching of his never-do-well brother Dicky, who is “the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts” for having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard back in his glory days, and his overbearing mother (played by a fantastic Melissa Leo), we see Micky get pushed into a fight that he should never have been in in the first place. After receiving a vicious and humiliating beating, Micky is quick to rethink his career and his professional relationships with his family and also his love-life. Picking up the phone to call the young and attractive bargirl (played by Amy Adams) wackiness soon ensues......
Marky-Mark really is the quiet centre of a family drama. Without his restrained and very subtle performance, the movie would probably descend into a screaming mess. As it is, he is the bedrock where very colourful characters inhabit. Christian Bale loses himself in his interpretation of real-life character Dicky Eklund, absolutely deserving of his best supporting actor Golden Globe award. The pair’s mother played by Melissa Leo is reminiscent of Jacki Weaver’s Oscar nominated performance in last year’s brilliant Animal Kingdom: a mother who forgives/ignores her families’ dysfunction, choosing to have them to stay together no matter what. Amy Adams is also very convincing as a wrong-side of the track “MTV girl”, her looks being made to look an attainable and familiar beauty. One could easily say that Marky-Mark is the weak link as his star doesn’t shine as nearly as bright as others on-screen. Like his onscreen character, Marky-Mark is a stepping-stone, allowing his co-stars a leg-up, confident that he is centre-stage. Mark was integral in getting the film made, keeping his physique in top condition over a 5 year period on the off-chance that he would enter production at a moment’s notice. Like Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Mark went through a gruelling boxing-training regime to convincingly convey welterweight, giving a lot of thought into the psychology and technique of boxing (as seen in the movie).
The texture and atmosphere of the movie is extremely rich and authentic. It is as if we are transported to Masechusis America, complete with not-very-good-looking average locals (special mention goes to Micky’s many sisters). This is more-so than Black Swan which, admittedly, probably wasn’t trying to be at all realistic, given its horror film aspects. The film makers had real-life source material and references at their disposal that they have used extremely well.
The camera-work and cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is great. Switching from film to digital-broadcast quality during fight-scenes, we bounce from docu-drama to becoming a sporting spectator getting the best of both worlds: a great front seat to amazing action sequences, and bearing witness to the intimate relationship between boxer and trainer.
Critics have suggested that there is not enough actual boxing in The Fighter, but obviously this is more of a family drama then straight out boxing movie (hell, even Rocky was a drama first!). The obstacles Micky has to overcome are influences on his life such as his family, his management, his girlfriend and ultimately himself, that seem to only want the best for him. In reality however, either consciously or subconsciously, such influences are hiding ulterior motives of their own redemption and financial gain.
First linked to Darren Aronofsky after directing The Wrestler, this movie could have been quite a different beast, tuning the subject matter with more dark and serious overtones. As it stands however, Russell does a good job referencing the negatives of Micky’s life, (Micky’s internal doubts, his savage beatings and his drug-addled brother) while maintaining the focus on Micky’s rise above his various obstacles.
One could argue that amongst all of the drama and negative/poisonous environment that surrounds Micky, the movie seems to come together too neatly at its conclusion. This may be in tradition of such sporting films but it also occurred in real life. Marky-Mark has commented that the story was chosen as it makes a great cinematic story, thus art imitating life. After watching the lead up, I was satisfied with the final blow.
Great performances, great atmosphere and action sequences. A real sucker-punch to the tear-duct – 4 jabs out of 5
Luke McWilliams February 2011