Hollywood produces, on average, about one boxing movie a year. Boxing. This year’s installment, The Fighter, might just be the best one ever. And yes, I know it’s lame to proclaim that after seeing a movie once, but The Fighter packs a hell of a punch all around, and also boasts 2010’s best performance: an enigmatic turn from Christian Bale as boxing prodigy/crack addict Dicky Eklund, while also elevating itself as being traditional, and unique, at the same time.
The Fighter centers on the improbable rise of “Irish” Micky Ward through the boxing ranks, despite having a ridiculously dysfunctional family in his corner. Ward is from Lowell, Massachusetts, and director David O. Russell does a great job right from the start of highlighting the pressure on the shoulders of Ward (Mark Wahlberg) to do something with his boxing career, and also the pressure on Dicky to return to his former glory in the ring while battling a severe crack addiction.
Lowell is portrayed as a locked door of a town, with Micky potentially holding the key to escape. As the movie develops, Micky becomes involved in a relationship with a dive bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams) who urges Micky to focus on his career without his family.
The performances are all top notch, with Bale stealing every single scene he’s in. The Welsh-born actor proves his amazing talent by allowing Dicky to be charming and a train wreck at the same time. You understand that he’s a crack addicted bum living on his life’s one accomplishment (knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard in a bout), but Bale also vividly portrays Dicky as a man embracing his notoriety as well as hiding from it.
Bale should win every single Supporting Actor award given this year, and in truth, it shouldn’t even be close. His portrayal of Dicky is tragic and uplifting, and his ability to turn a pretty simple movie into something much more deserves to be rewarded at the highest level.
The rest of the cast is also strong. Wahlberg’s portrayal of Micky is subdued and strong, with Adams’ portrayal of Charlene providing Micky with the spark he needs to only in life, but in his career as well. Alice (Micky’s Mother, played by Melissa Leo) also gives a very solid turn, playing a devoted, caring mother with an inability to help her children as much as she believes she does.
David O. Russell’s directing is also top notch. With a movie called The Fighter, you might expect a crippling amount of in-ring boxing scenes, but Russell instead focuses the largest portion of the film on the relationships in this struggling family, and the movie benefits from it. The boxing scenes are efficient and well shot, and never exhausting or repetitive, and the development of Micky and Dicky throughout the movie allows the final fight to be one that brings you to your feet rather than making you check you watch because we’re already seen it over and over in the rest of the movie.
Russell’s pacing of the movie also strategically mirrors Micky’s basic fighting strategy, by drawing you (the opponent) in, allowing you to get yourself comfortable, and then knocking you on your ass as it progresses. Russell should be commended on making such a non-traditional sports film, one that allows the actors and situations to carry the workload rather than flashy directing and bombastic action.
The Fighter elevates itself to being greater than the sum of its part, hinged mainly on Christian Bale’s enigmatic portrayal of Dicky Eklund. Bale is dynamic and forces you to invest in Dicky and the other characters, and the rest of the supporting cast is also strong. Director David O. Russell’s unique approach allows The Fighter not to coast to a referee’s decision, but to deliver knockout blow after knockout blow all the way to the uplifting, goosebump producing ending.
Score: 9.0/10 (Outstanding)