© 2011 Ray Wong
Based on the true story of fighters and half-brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, The Fighter is actually a gritty tale about brotherly love and rivalry, family, and drug addiction.
Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is an ex-boxing champion staging his comeback. He's also training his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). The quiet, introspective Micky has always been living in the shadow of his charismatic but troubled brother and their overbearing mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), also the boys' manager.
Micky feels stifled by his aggressive brother, who has a drug addiction problem, as well as his mother. When he's given a chance to train with someone else in Vegas, his big break is squashed by his family, who sees him as a cash cow. Micky's new girlfriend, barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), convinces him he must cut his ties with his family if he wants to advance his career. Especially Dicky, who, while running from the law, causes Micky a serious, potentially career-ending injury.
Determined to fight back, literally, Micky cuts his brother and mother off, and trains with old friend O'Keefe instead. Soon, Micky's winning fights and has a chance at the championship. However, Dicky and Alice want to come back and be part of Micky's career, and that creates a huge rift between Micky, Charlene and O'Keefe.
Mark Wahlberg (The Other Guys) has the thankless job of playing the stoic, quiet brother, even though he is front and center in the story. Wahlberg has, over the years, proven to be a solid actor. However, I think his performance is too understated and standard (for a fighter's story) to really stand out, especially against the flamboyant Christian Bale (Public Enemies).
Bale pulls out all the stops to play Dicky. He even lost tremendous amount of weight and shaved his hair, and he studied the mannerisms of the real Dicky. The effort pays off. Bale is completely immersed in his role, which is unlike his past works (ironically, Bale tends to play the stoic, quiet characters such as John Connor in Terminator Salvation). At times, though, perhaps it's because the character is so unlike Bale himself that I can feel him acting.
Amy Adams (Leap Year) is excellent as Charlene. No more goody-two-shoes, she is sexy and gutsy as the barmaid who takes no crap from anyone. Melissa Leo (Frozen River), however, has the showier role as the boys' mother. She's brash, unapologetic, and deeply flawed. Her performance, at times, comes across as forced, but there are key scenes when she simply blows us away with raw power. Mickey O'Keefe gets to play himself in the film (although, of course, the real story happened almost thirty years ago); not much acting required here.
The screenplay by Scott Silver (8 Miles), Paul Tamsay (Walking Across Egypt) and Eric Johnson is a hodgepodge of personal triumphs with boxers (The Wrestler, Rocky), family struggles and redemption. Since it's based on a true story, there's certain authenticity and realism in the script. The dialogue is typical, though, and the plot is simple enough.
What is good about this is the dysfunctional relationships between Micky, Dicky and Alice. Dicky gets the best of the character arcs, and the movie could have been strong enough if it had been just about Dicky. It's such a strong character. In comparison, Micky comes across as weak and passive, even though he's the "fighter." There are moments when I can't help but yell, "Get a spine, bud, even your girlfriend has more courage than you." It's a bit difficult to root for the hero when everyone else has stronger convictions than he.
David O. Rusell (I Heart Huckabees) is back in the director's chair after six long years. He gives the film an appropriately gritty look and feel, and an urgency that fits the story. It's solid and good, but I'm not sure if it's Oscar-caliber.
The Fighter is a solid film in every sense of the word: solid acting, solid script, solid production. It just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi to lift it to a higher level, and I'm not convinced it's one of the best pictures of this year. But what do I know? I have no dog in this fight.
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O'Keefe, Jack McGee
Director: David O. Russell
Writer: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug content, violence and sexuality
Running Time: 115 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 7
Total – 7.4 out of 10