It is amazing that there is still a relatively large amount of vitality in the boxing movie genre. The most recent entry to this canon, “The Fighter,” is not quite among the greatest of them but is still a finely executed film with a lot going for it. For having such an unusual choice for a director David O. Russell (who previously did “Three Kings” and “Flirting With Disaster”), the way the film flows is as if it were in the hands of a professional in this genre.
“The Fighter” documents the true story of “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts who gets offered the opportunity to show off his skills in Vegas. Part of a very large extended family (mostly consisting of sisters with an ungodly amount of hairspray), Micky grew up admiring his wiry half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) who was once a promising fighter himself. He is his sparring partner as well as his mentor on the whole sport.
But ever since an unsuccessful defeat, Dicky’s life has spiraled out of control whether he is aware of it or not. He has developed an addiction to crack, he started hanging with the wrong crowd and has gotten involved in criminal activities. One night, he gets caught in the act by the police and taken to jail with an ample price tag attached for bail. The depressing part is that Dicky has the expectations for a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card, but nobody in his family really cares to help him out this time.
Micky’s new love interest, a young and self-assured barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), thinks that Dicky’s arrest will probably be the best for him. She thinks that he really has the chance to succeed if his pesky half-brother’s personal life were not repeatedly interfering with his own. She sets him up a new boxing trainer straight from the Lowell police department and encourages him to rise to the top.
Melissa Leo also gives a noteworthy performance as Alice Eklund, the domineering mother to both Micky and Dicky. She is unjustifiably disapproving and openly quarrelsome toward Charlene. When the two are in the same room, it usually ends in either arguments or physical threats against each other. Alice thinks that Micky should be sticking by his brother’s side through this ordeal.
Something that might upset certain critics is that Micky himself is probably the least interesting character in the ensemble cast. While I see where those critics are coming from, I argue in the movie’s defense. What the film focuses on are the chain of conflicts and events that are going on all around Micky and, like Nina Sayers in “Black Swan,” he is merely just dragged along for the ride. Only Micky’s reactions are rational whereas Nina’s are a little on the frightening side.
But “The Fighter” is a film that takes you by surprise. Granted, it may starts off with some slight hesitation in its storytelling during the opening scenes, but it progressively gets more absorbing as it moves forward. And as I always say, I would rather a movie have a great end than a great beginning. Like Micky Ward, you never know really whose allegiance you want to abide by, whether it is Charlene who wants him to succeed more than anything or it is his mother
The most sympathy you feel toward the characters in the film would probably have to go to Dicky, simply because he has ruined so much of his own life and he truly means well toward his brother. In addition, it is revealed that he also has a very young child whom he cares for and who he is kept away from once in prison. Christian Bale knocks it out of the park as this deeply pathetic character, to which he brings the utmost amount of charm. This is probably even his most animated role to date, save for his delightfully sadistic character in “American Psycho.”
The ensemble cast (yes, even Mark Wahlberg) are all sure-fire contenders for Oscar nominations, that much is certain. But the film goes to show that no matter how old or how perfect a genre may seem, there is always room to create something enduring and exciting from it. “The Fighter,” though it is not as concerned about the actual fighting as much as the juicy divergences, tacks on a final fight that I could only wish that the recent “Karate Kid” remake could have done right in its final act.
VERDICT: 3 out of 4