Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, & Eric Johnson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo
Micky Ward is trapped. Trapped by his overbearing mother, his drug-addicted has-been of a brother, and the endless cliches of boxing movies. Fortunately, with the help of an extraordinarily assembled cast of actors and a director (David O. Russell, a name to remember) with a fairly unique vision, The Fighter kind of comes out on top.
Horribly titled to be sure, this film tells the semi-true story of an underdog boxer (Mark Wahlberg). Blah, blah, blah, you’ve heard it all before. The biggest success of this movie is that Russell is almost in as much of a rush to get past the fight scenes and into the juicy human drama as the rest of us are. There’s a big story to be told here outside the ring, and when it stays outside the movie is a potent, fully alive drama.
Micky is overshadowed by his half-brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a former boxer and the pride and joy of Lowell, Mass. Now disparate, thin, and riddled with a crack addiction, Dicky, his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) and their huge family live out their fantasies through Micky almost desperately. They cocoon him in a web of false hopes, short-term goals, and guilt, never really allowing him to emerge and spread his wings.
Then he meets the girl. Charlene (Amy Adams) teaches Micky to start thinking for himself and speaking up, something he’s never gotten the chance to do in a home where a Carmela-Soprano-on-steroids of a mother makes all the decisions for him. Melissa Leo is extraordinary in this role. She’s been underrated for years, nabbing an unexpected nomination for Frozen River in 2008. She can all but expect to nab one for here.
Matching her blow-for-blow on the acting front is Christian Bale. Another overlooked actor, at least by the Academy, he can expect a Best Supporting Actor nod for his stunning performance in this movie. He steals the spotlight from Wahlberg and the rest much like it was stolen from him in The Dark Knight. His maddening eyes, cockeyed smile and tragically misguided dreams of getting back on top will haunt you.
Surprisingly, Wahlberg actually holds the center of this movie fairly well, even if Bale and Leo steal the show. Adams is also a surprise as his foul-mouthed and determined girlfriend. It is a testament to this movie’s script that it allows roles for women in a sports movie that don’t just have them sitting on the sidelines and cheering.
Most of The Fighter comes as a surprise, with its amazing acting and powerful direction. Included is a soundtrack sure to please the audience a film of this type draws in. That being said, Russell uses them in terrific ways, propelling scenes along in a way sometimes worthy of a Scorsese film. Watching Dicky flee the cops and then meet up at a restaurant with his family only to get him and Micky beat up by them is accompanied by a Led Zeppelin track and edited to stylistic and emotional perfection. Sure, you’ve seen a lot of this before. But with a gritty new coat of paint and some of the best acting of the year, you won’t mind watching a boxer conquer the odds… again.