The Fighter (2010, Paramount Pictures).
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.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams & Melissa Leo. Directed by David O. Russell. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Keith Dorrington, Eric Johnson, Tucker Tooley & Leslie Varrelman. Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson.
Who would’ve thought Marky-Mark would turn into a bigtime Hollywood mogul? From not-so-humble beginnings as a rapper in low-slung pants to show off his Calvins to the man behind a well-deserved, Oscar-nominated real-life Rocky Balboa story. The Fighter succeeds on so many levels—great storytelling, magnificent performances, authentic boxing sequences, compelling characters, an aura of real life in Lowell, Mass.—it’s hard to not root for “Irish” Micky Ward to come back against all odds. Especially with so many around him whose best intentions for Micky do the most damage.
The Fighter tells the true story of Micky Ward, a “stepping stone” boxer in hardscrabble Lowell, Mass., longing for his shot at the big fight. Under the tutelage of his brother, local hero Dickie Ecklund (played by Christian Bale) and his overbearing mother, Alice (played by Melissa Leo), Micky’s life and career are stuck in neutral. Everyone is still living off Dickie’s former glory as a boxer who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard while glossing over the raging drug addiction that is destroying his life (and we see every excruciating side of addiction). It isn’t until booze-swilling bartender Charlene (Amy Adams) enters the fold as Micky’s love interest do we see Micky begin to start thinking for himself.
With so many big performances surrounding him, Wahlberg’s understated acting as Micky is the perfect tone. So many damaged, passionate characters are vying for his approval, he lets them drive rather than competing with them. Bale’s Dickie is undoubtedly the performance of the movie, but Jack McGee as Micky’s father, George, was my favorite. I love character actors who, when cast in supporting roles, make you look forward to their scenes. McGee is at his best playing off Leo’s overbearing Alice. Even when he doesn’t have lines, his expressions are perfect.
Acting aside credit the filmmakers for treating Lowell, Mass. as a character in The Fighter. Director David O. Russell takes full advantage of this tough, gritty town. The people, the bars, the clothes, the old cars, the dated music, it doesn’t mock the people of Lowell, instead showing them as resilient and unpolished. Russell spares us no dirt or pretense about Lowell. It is what it is. The warts-and-all style was perfect.
And no discussion about The Fighter is complete without mentioning: AUTHENTIC-LOOKING BOXING SCENES! Shot as HBO TV broadcasts would look, Russell didn’t try to insert himself into the mix. Instead, he pulled back and presented it like a fight. His restraint is to be lauded.
The Fighter is the culmination of a great story, great characters and a great backdrop. It is a testimony to power of letting a story tell itself. It’s not gimmicky. It’s not sleek. It’s simply a well-told story about a boxer who’s biggest fights are outside the ring. Easily one of the best films of the year.
**** stars (out of five)