Film review: The FighterBy Kim Francis
February 09, 2011
It’s been compared to seminal boxing films Raging Bull and Rocky, although The Fighter has little in common with either.
It does share the same subject matter and contains a heralded central performance, but in The Fighter, the plaudits go to supporting actor Christian Bale over Mark Wahlberg’s unspectacular, overshadowed lead.
Wahlberg and Bale play real-life boxing half-brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund. Where once it was Dicky that was the fighter with a modicum of success, now it’s Micky’s chance to shine.
With his life ruled by his matriarchal manager mother (played by Melissa Leo) and his wayward trainer brother, Micky’s career threatens to stall before it’s even got off the ground as both hold him back – aided and abetted by his gaggle of feckless sisters – and seriously hamper his chances.
Torn between his family, his supportive, headstrong girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), and his desire to succeed, Micky must find a route to equilibrium in his life if he is to make the transition from amateur to professional and go on to claim the world light welterweight title.
Above all, it’s the acting talent in The Fighter that makes it a must-see. Telling the story of an extraordinary dysfunctional family, the likes of which have seldom been committed to celluloid, David O Russell’s film leaves you slack-jawed as you watch Leo flex her acting chops in the domineering white trash mother role.
She is a character who exercises a vice-like grip on the lives of her boys, with the fearsome backing of her coven-like pack of daughters.
The quality of the acting by the women in this picture not only stands out in its own right, it also serves to enhance Bale’s bravura turn.
The British-born actor is mesmerising as the crack-addicted former small-town star. He believes a film crew following his every move is documenting his boxing comeback when it’s actually chronicling his devastating drug-fuelled downturn.
And though Bale gets his mimicry of Eklund spot on – stick around for the video footage of the real-life brothers as the credits roll – this is more than mere impersonation. Bale inhabits the role, not only transforming himself physically but immersing himself totally in the character’s mindset.
Russell’s direction, meanwhile, also deserves credit. He turns in an involving film that’s pacy and dramatic with some fascinating street scenes and enthralling ring-based sequences.
Although the characters in the film are often odious, he effectively conveys a fondness for them, using humour and genuine family affection as a tool to meet his ends.
Earning itself seven Academy Award nominations, The Fighter arguably deserves to win in every category.