David O. Russell
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, Jack McGee
R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality
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Based on the true story of boxer Irish Mickey Ward, The Fighter represents director David O. Russell’s first major Oscar contender.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Mickey Ward, the younger brother of a strung out drug addict Dicky (Christian Bale) who once knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard, but who’s let fame seep into his brain and driven him to ruin. Dicky is in the process of training Mickey under their mother’s (Melissa Leo) management to become a prize fighter, but after a disastrous HBO event where Mickey’s supposed opponent is taken ill and he’s forced to take on a challenger who easily outweighs him, Mickey retreats to a bar. There, he meets the beautiful bartender (Amy Adams) who shines a light into his otherwise miserable life. Then, Dicky gets himself arrested and nearly takes Mickey with him who fights off the police who are manhandling his brother. Mickey gets out, but Dicky is sent to prison where he lives vicariously through his brother who becomes a success on his own away from the negative impact of his brother and mother.
The film is supposed to be about Mickey, but Bale dominates nearly every seen he’s in, giving a fantastic performance. His acting is a bit off-putting at times, but then so is his character and when, at the end of the film, we’re introduced to the real Mickey and Dicky, the resemblance, physical and vocal characteristics are so comparative, it’s stunning. His best scene is a quiet one in the bunk in prison where he must come down from his perpetual high and move towards recovery. Yet, Bale isn’t the only person who deserves praise for this film. All four actors are near the top of their games. Leo is outlandish as Alice Ward, but she makes it work despite having an unlikable and frequently unsympathetic character; Adams sheds her good girl reputation and gets down and dirty, both sexually and verbally as Mickey’s aggressive and possessive girlfriend; but it’s Wahlberg who deserves quite a bit of praise for his performance. Although his character never has the fireworks moments of his co-stars, he anchors the film with sensitivity, vulnerability and warmth. And comparing him to his real life counterpart at the end of the film, you have to give him credit for accomplishing something. To stand against actors who’ve got far stronger resumes and play a more meek role is a feat in and of itself, but to do so with such a lived-in performance is what is so special.
The film ends rather abruptly. I don’t know whether it’s because of the solid pacing of the film, but by the time you’ve reached the end, you’re hardly aware of the trip. There are a few clunker scenes that drag the film down, but there’s a genuine compassion in the lens that Russell brings out. These aren’t rich characters. They aren’t necessarily even friendly, but you are pulled into their lives and you can appreciate their sacrifices and struggles with demons in a way that many similar films can’t. That the film seems to switch focus to easily between Bale and Wahlberg, is perhaps its biggest flaw. The story is ostensibly about Mickey, but the film gives equal time to both brothers. Bale may have the fireworks, but it’s not his film and Russell lets him have too much time with the audience when we should be valuing Wahlberg. On top of that, there are several narrative threads that feel unexplored, like the relationship between Mickey and his father (the underappreciated Jack McGee); the tentative truce between Adams and Leo; and the conclusion that feels almost like we’re being abandoned rather than being resolved. Yet, even with these somewhat minor flaws, it’s still a movie that deserves to be seen.
December 27, 2010