The Fighter (2010)
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
Plot: A look at the early years of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.
Genre: Biography / Drama / Sport
Awards: Won 2 Oscars - Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress. Nom. for 5 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing.
Rating: M18 for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
What happens when a volatile director meets a potentially volatile actor on set? You get one of the most intense performances of the year. Notoriously hard-to-work-with director David O. Russell (Three Kings, 1999) guides Christian Bale (who infamously threw vulgar tirades on the set of Terminator Salvation, 2009) to a great turn as Dicky Eklund, the drug addict brother of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), whom this biopic is based on.
The Fighter, as it is titled, chronicles Micky’s rise to prominence in the sport of boxing, but it is not without its fair share of ups and downs as you would see in this quite masterful picture of drama and sport. In the realm of boxing pictures, The Fighter straddles in the territory between Rocky (1976) and Raging Bull (1980), with the latter being the holy grail of the subgenre. It is raw, gritty, vulgar, and also a very revealing examination of the nature of human relations when people are under pressure to conform to the beliefs and expectations of others.
The performances in this film are a knockout, and are perhaps the most compelling reason to head down to the theatres to catch the film. In addition to Wahlberg and Bale, the ensemble cast also features Amy Adams (Doubt, 2008), who is cast against type as a foul-mouth bargirl, and Melissa Leo (Frozen River, 2008), who plays one of the fiercest movie moms in recent memory.
Russell’s rough, unpolished visual style gives the film a documentary feel, and this is aided by scenes which show a cameraman and some crew following Dicky, the footage of which would end up in a special social issue segment about “Crack” on HBO shown on television in the film. In the final quarter, when Micky gets a title shot, one would expect a thrilling boxing match, of which Russell delivers with aplomb.
It does not have the gut-wrenching impact of Raging Bull, nor is it as inspiring as Rocky, but Russell’s unique way of presenting the fight (he uses intentionally hard lighting, loud, overbearing commentators, and low-bass strings) makes it especially immersive.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of The Fighter (but it is not a major one) is that the character of Micky Ward is not screen-stealing enough and seems to play a secondary role to Dicky, who is a supporting character, albeit a very highly stimulating one. Thus, even though the drama is generally involving and exciting, it would seem at times that this film is not so much about Mickey but the strong-minded characters around him that shaped his attitudes toward his outlook in life.