By Gary 'Southpaw' Murray
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson
Running time 115 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating: FULL PRICE
I knew nothing about Micky Ward and his brother Dicky. I am not a fan of boxing and the only fighters I could identify are Mohammed Ali and Mike Tyson. Usually, I don't like to know much about the movies I am about to see. Reading all the articles and press notices just slants the mind-set. I want to go in fresh. That being said, all I knew about The Fighter was that it was a boxing flick. Coming out, I knew I had seen the best sports film since Rocky.
The story basically is of a Mass. family in 1993. Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is a fighter pushing 40 who once had a match against Sugar Ray Leonard. While he dreams of getting another shot, he trains his younger half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). Mickey has all the talents of his brother but also twice the drive. He also knows that at 30, there are few chances at getting a shot at a title.
A film crew follows around Dicky. He believes that the film-makers is working on a documentary about his comeback to the ring. In reality, the HBO crew is doing a story on the dark side of crack addiction. It seems that Dicky is hooked on the pipe and spends his days in a crack house, surrounded by enablers who smoke the rock and let Dicky relive his glory days in the ring.
Complicating this story is Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) the mother of both boys and their manager. Though she shows interest in both men, her main focus is on Dicky–the oldest boy and number one son. Micky is almost an afterthought, the second son trying to win his mothers love. There is also a gaggle of seven sisters who always insert their opinions and machination in the style of a Greek chorus.
As Micky trains and works, he meets Charlene (Amy Adams) the local bartender. She was one a promising athlete who blew her college scholarship by partying too much. They have an instant connection and she begin to push at a question Micky has been keeping in the backwash of his mind. Is his family doing what is best for him?
The tale of The Fighter is of Micky breaking apart from the family and becoming his own man. It is also of the downfall of Dicky, caught in the downward spiral of drug addiction. He hits rock bottom and is sent to jail. But it is also of his redemption as the long slog to win Micky a sanctioned belt.
Mark Wahlberg delivers the performance of his career as Micky. Not only does he have the physical abilities for the role, he also delivers the wide-eyed sadness of a man-child who must make a choice between his biological family and the one he builds with another. There is true heartbreak in the performance of a character at the crossroads.
As much as Mark Wahlberg delivers in the lead role, Christian Bale just towers over the proceedings as older brother Dicky. This is such an all-encompassing role. Bale is lost in the role much the same way DeNiro and Pacino were known for doing decades ago. He becomes almost unrecognizable in the skin of Dicky, finding every perfect tick as both the older brother and the sad crack addict. He never realizes until it is almost too late the folly of his ways, both in and outside the ring. This is the strongest performance of his career and a sure-fire Oscar nomination.
I have been a ardent fan of Amy Adams since Junebug. She is just perfect in a role that is both bold and unflattering. Her character is in no means perfect, but she believes in her man to a strong degree. Even more impressive though is the performance of Melissa Leo as Mom Alice. This is the kind of a performance like Violet Davis of a few years ago–a reading that puts one on the A-list of character actresses. It is one of those 'stand-up and take-notice' bits of acting that both audiences and the Academy remembers.
David O. Russell has given the world a film that will be watched for generations. He never backs away from all the tragedy of the lives of Dicky and Micky while never shying away from the black comedy of the lives of these people. There is quick line after quick line while never losing the tension of the overall situation. This perfect balance of the two extremes of storytelling make this a film for the ages.
To call The Fighter a sports film is like calling Tolstoy an adventure writer. It is Shakespearean with drama, tragedy and pathos. It is about family–both love and hate. It is about wish fulfillment and redemption. Simply put, The Fighter is the strongest film of 2010 and the major contender for Oscar gold. It has everything one wants from a movie and is an instant classic, a film like Rocky and Raging Bull.