“The Fighter” hits hard with knockout performances
Great boxing movies seem to periodically re-emerge despite the sport’s decline into near irrelevancy, even among its most loyal enthusiasts. Though “The Fighter” has little in common with “Rocky,” or even “Million Dollar Baby,” it certainly should be a contender come awards season.
Like most memorable sports-based films it’s less about the sport and more about the struggle of its athletes, and “The Fighter,” based on the early career of welterweight Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) pulls no punches in its gritty, profane, often ugly and at times humorous study of one boxer’s determination to succeed despite those around him.
A product of poverty-ravaged Lowell, Mass., Micky has the heart of a champion but as the film opens has lost three fights in a row. In his corner, both literally and figuratively, are his chain-smoking, acerbic mother Alice (a terrifyingly good Melissa Leo), her-count ’em, SEVEN-wild-haired, foul-mouthed sisters (like a Greek Chorus stuck in a bad 80s metal band video), his congenial father (Jack McGee) and his self-destructive, crackhead, once-gifted boxer and half brother Dicky (Christian Bale).
If not for Bale’s harrowing, almost scary performance “The Fighter” might have slipped into just an average film. But the story, with help from the real families involved and Executive Producer Wahlberg’s persistence, takes on a whole different level of realism with Bale, pathetically gaunt yet heroically charismatic, nailing Dicky’s double-edged nature. He’s the guy most likely to help, and also derail his brother’s quest for greatness.
Wahlberg plays his character with poignant restraint; it is one of his best performances. So while he may be the central character, the storm around him, his ability to balance his affection for those involved (which includes girlfriend, barmaid Amy Adams in a terrific against-type role), and the palpable family dysfunction on display serve as the film’s primary dynamic.
The fight scenes are well shot but secondary, and certainly the rough nature of the language and environs don’t make this your average feel-good movie. But the performances, especially Bale’s, feel a like a body shot to the senses and make “The Fighter” a breed apart in the boxing film genre and one of this year’s most intense and memorable movies.
Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence, and sexuality.