As a boxing fan, director David O. Russell’s new movie The Fighter has long been one of my most anticipated screenings at the cinema this year. The story, based on real life events surrounding boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward and his crazy family, was one of the more compelling that film’s had to offer in 2010. The film is more drama than action, but is both riveting and wild. Upon viewing the movie, it is easy to say it is one of the top films released this year.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Ward, the boxing warrior who (in the film) is a bit down on his luck, drives a beat up vehicle and is attached to one of the craziest film families we’ve seen since the brief glimpse we got at Brad Pitt’s gypsy family in Snatch. Mickey’s brother Dicky Eklund is a crack addict and former local boxing legend himself, and Christian Bale breathes more life into the character than Dicky inhales crack smoke. And yes, that is saying something. Meanwhile, Ward’s mother Alice is acting as a fight manager to Mickey, while being in constant denial over Dicky’s issues. Dicky has an HBO film crew following him around which only serves to add to his thoughts of local heroism, but he believes it to be more about his boxing prowess (he knocked down the famous “Sugar” Ray Leonard once) than his crack addiction. It’s not.
One night, Mickey’s father-in-law sets him up with educated bartender Charlene (Amy Adams), who eventually becomes Ward’s girlfriend. To say that his family accepts Charlene with open arms would be a monumental lie. Ward’s five sisters are ready to brawl at a moment’s notice and every family scene is riveted with heavy doses of the exciting unknown. Ward is trying to get his shot at boxing glory and win a title, but with all the drama going on around him, his training suffers and he takes fights that he shouldn’t. He needs to get his life, in the ring and out of it, on track.
The Fighter boasts some incredible acting, primarily from Bale, who in my estimation is a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar award. He’s captivating from the very first frame of film that O. Russell shoots; long gone is the superhero he is known for and in his place is a transformed actor at the peak of his craft. Wahlberg is solid, not showy; Adams, brazen and bold, and Melissa Leo as Ward’s mother is insanely noteworthy as well. O. Russell doesn’t add tons of visual flair to the proceedings but his lighting is superb and the fight portions of the film feel like a real boxing broadcast. Great work by his cast and crew here.
It’s been said that this film boasts some of the most realistic boxing ever captured on celluloid. It seems that critics are quick to point this out in almost any new boxing film of quality that comes along. Clint Eastwood’s brilliant Million Dollar Baby and Michael Mann’s Ali come to mind. After The Last Round this is not, but the action (though fairly limited) is quality and Wahlberg sports a striking resemblance to the real life Ward in the ring; hair sweaty and body chiseled.
The Fighter is a special story, not about boxing as much as family, but one that captivates from frame one and doesn’t let go. Based on a true story, this is one that should be seen by all fans of film and sport. It’s a surprising holiday movie that is sure to become a major awards contender as well. Like a comeback that Ward would have made in the ring, I like it’s chances.