Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
Review: 4 stars (of five)
The Fighter is a solid character drama that’s maybe not in the weight class of Raging Bull or Rocky, but with fantastic acting, crisp direction and a story that nearly finds its focus, it’s one of the better films of 2010.
(MPAA regulations require reviews of boxing movies to have at least one sport-related pun. “Weight class” was it. We’re safe from here on.)
The most noteworthy thing about the movie is Christian Bale’s amazing submersion into the character of Dicky Ward, an ex-boxer who now hits the crack pipe rather than the heavy bag. The former “Pride of Lowell” (Mass.) is a fast-talking, friendly loser, with all the brain damage you’d think a combination of boxing and drugs could provide, and he looks and sounds nothing like Christian Bale. It’s pretty damned entertaining to behold, and the character is infused with such a manic energy that makes all his scenes a weird joy.
But the movie is supposed to be about Dicky’s younger brother, Micky, a boxer on the verge of washing out of the sport. The main thing holding him back is his family, from Dicky (his trainer) to his mother, who’s a fairly inept manager, to the brothers’ seven horrible sisters, a collection of bad hair and bad attitude that makes scenes set in the Ward family home like a Boston-based version of the Star Wars cantina scene.
Where the movie soars is in casting. Bale is amazing, Wahlberg is solid in his less-flashy, more predictable role, and Amy Adams is terrific as the girlfriend who gets him to stand up to his loser family. There’s an excellent scene in which brother Dicky is agonizingly humiliated on national television, and we cut to the entire cast, in various locations, reacting to the moment. Adams steals the sequence with about three silent seconds on camera.
Where the movie lags a bit is in story structure. There are enough writers credited on this thing to produce a sequel to the Bible. The trouble is that, just as in the story, Dicky forever tries to steal the show. You’re nearly halfway through the film before you realize it’s about Wahlberg, not Bale. Sure, the high-voltage character of Dicky is going to be compelling, but you’d think one or two of the many hands that worked on this script could’ve focused it down a bit better.
Like any boxing picture, the whole film comes down to “The Big Fight.” These things are often predictable in a Hollywood movie, and when it’s a boxing picture, Jesus, you not only know the hero’s gonna win, you can already see him throwing the heroic, off-the-ropes punch that’s going to save him from defeat. But because this is a film based on real life (where things don’t always go the Hollywood way) and it’s set in one depressing and loserish milieu, you go into the final act uncertain of how it’ll turn out, so that the ending (whatever it might be) has a chance to surprise you.
This is a movie worth seeing, and one that’s going to be remembered (Bale, and Melissa Leo as the mother, for character roles) at Oscar time.