Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy
Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Mark Wahlberg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Duration: 115 Minutes
There’s a scene in “The Fighter” where “Irish” Mickey Ward, in a fight that is his last chance at giving boxing a serious go, is up against the ropes, taking a beating and losing rounds. The same could be said for “The Fighter” as a whole, directed by David O. Russell, but just like Mickey, “The Fighter” will take those lost points to lure you into being rope-a-doped and then deliver a knock-out to win in the end. “The Fighter” is a winner. Giving us the underdog story we love that’s blessed with great performances by Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and an Oscar-worthy Christian Bale.
The boxing ring may be filled with cinematic clichés but then again, so is life. There’s never been a plethora of boxing movies about the upper-crust well-off Harvard kid’s journey to the ring that steals our heart and that’s o.k. We want to see the rise, with the possible fall, of someone who has earned victory from life’s hardship roadblocks. We enter these films having a good idea of how it’s going to end but it don’t mean a damn thing if, for the sake of cliché, we don’t get that hard scramble journey to it.
Enter Mickey Ward and his, and when I say dysfunctional, I mean Thanksgiving/365 dysfunctional family. Dicky (Christian Bale) is Mickey’s older brother and trainer. A former boxer himself, he tells- to anyone who will listen- of the past glory of how he went the distance with “Sugar” Ray Leonard. As the film begins, an HBO camera crew follows Dicky around in what he believes is about his comeback but instead is a hard- hitting documentary of the sad effects of drug addiction. Christian Bale is on a different planet with his portrayal of the 27-time arrested junkie. Bale gives another impressive physical and mental performance by going not “Machinist” slim, but slim none the less as he lost 30 pounds and maintained an extremely athletic lean and wiry body.
On top of that, his mother Alice is his manager, played ferociously by Melissa Leo. A manipulating woman that favors Dicky to compensate for his transgressions and abuses the definition of family to keep things the way she likes them. Under her love warped thumb are Mickey’s seven MTV-hating, chew with your mouth open, gossiping, beer coaster holding, big-haired sisters. The vile that these Lowell Mass. women manifest is impressive.
Early on when Mickey’s scheduled fighter falls through, Alice and Dicky talk him into taking on a last second replacement boxer that’s 20 pounds heavier. An obvious mistake, but mom and brother look blindly, because if Mickey don’t fight, then no one gets paid. Mickey comes to realize along with a heavy dose of spurring on from his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) who doesn’t blink an eye at overstepping her boundaries by telling Alice and clan what she thinks of them, that the family in his corner is no longer looking out for his best interests. Adams plays against type and portrays Charlene so sexily that at times it hits harder than Mickey.
Once Mickey’s boxing starts to take off, director Russell never loses focus that the real fight is with the family, knowing that their melodrama is the heartbeat of the film. Russell takes chances with his characters, not all of them panning out. A scene plays more silly than intended, when Alice and her girls stomp their way to give Charlene a piece of their mind but it plays out like the piling of a clown car. Russell keeps the punches coming by letting his talented actors showing their characters making plenty of mistakes but letting us know this is a family that loves each other. I love the way Russell shot the boxing scenes. Giving them an HBO-esq tint and not using slow-motion as a crutch to create a hard nose reality.
Much praise to Wahlberg’s grounded performance which lets everyone else flash on screen while he gives us the only sane person waiting for his turn to shine. Wahlberg quietly shows us the status quo needing to be changed but having the love to be loyal to his blood. Ward was a boyhood hero of Wahlberg’s, who has been training for over four years waiting for this, his passion project, to get made. Finally getting Russell on board and being filled with a superb cast, “The Fighter” is worth a pay-per-view!
“This” is worth a pay-per-view!
movieswithmitch.com/ Mitch Hansch