“The Fighter” takes on the age old formula of a sports movie but injects it with new life by astonishing performances and a gritty story about a dysfunctional family that is almost torn apart. The usual clichés are there: The underdog, the training, the big fight at the end where the hero is beat down until he finds the inner will to win. Director David O’Russell doesn’t simply hang these tired moments on a clothes hanger for us though. He fills the gaps with real human drama.
The story is based on real events that surrounded Micky Ward, a small time boxer from Lowell Massachusetts. Micky is portrayed by Mark Wahlberg. Before his time, his older brother Dickie Eklund, almost made it big. He is a legend around the neighbourhood for knocking over Sugar Ray Leonard during a fight. Dickie’s life then spiralled out of control in to violence, crime and crack addiction. He is portrayed by Christian Bale.
With Dickie now unable to fight, Micky enters the ring. His mother as his manager and Dickie as his trainer. The bonds of family loyalty are tested though when Micky is put in to a few fights with boxers he cannot compete with, but can make some money as a stepping stone for other fighters. When Dickie is arrested and sent to prison, Micky, with the help of his loyal girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), decides to refocus and take his family out of the condition.
What makes this story work is the very real performances by everyone involved. Wahlberg is vulnerable at first but transitions on to a focused fighter after freeing himself from the grips of his family. Amy Adams gives another great performance as a strong woman who shows him how to stand up to his overbearing relatives and their are quite a few of them.
Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable as Micky’s mother. She is very convincing as a woman who stands for family first, no matter what is at stake.
This brings me to Christian Bale, who gives a performance that should be awarded the supporting actor award right now. You have never seen him like this. Maybe we have seen him this skinny in “The Machinist”, but you have never experienced him as a strung out, wild eyed, free wheeling crack addict. He is mesmerizing from start to finish. I almost wished that they had made a movie specifically about him.
David O’Russell once again shows he has a great eye for locations, performances and knows how to make a movie move along. His “Three Kings” was sharp, focused, as is “The Fighter”. A lot of credit has to be given to the cinematographer and the editors as well.