Dir.: David O. Russel
With: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale.
All sports films are alike. There is always a struggling yet talented protagonist (sometimes a team) who must overcome some kind of an obstacle, personal or otherwise, to become the best of the best. Also, there is often a foxy lady involved, providing inspiration and motivation for our central character. Boxing films are even more similar to each other, with a couple of possible variations. The story always starts with an underprivileged upbringing, initial dismay and lack of self-belief. Then someone or something happens to the boxer and he goes on a mad training streak (often with an upbeat soundtrack at hand), thus winning title after title.
The Fighter does not fight this stereotype, however, it does not mean that it’s a boring or predictable movie. The boxing is nicely interwoven with the family dynamics. There are some really good performances by the core of the cast. Micky (Mark Wahlber), although he is supposed to be the brutal fighter of the film’s title, is passive and constantly manipulated by his family from hell. Dicky (Christian Bale) is the one-time boxing champion, Micky’s elder brother and the centre of everyone’s attention, despite his crack addiction. He is very physical in this role. Emaciated, twitching and angular, he is quite disturbing to watch. He also seems to be much brighter and more perceptive than his younger brother, which becomes one of the main reasons for Mickey’s eventual success. Micky and Dicky’s mum, Alice, played by Melissa Leo, is the epitome of the controlling, strong and powerful matriarch. Alice, Dicky and his seven terrible, white-trash sisters (god knows where they found such fragrant-looking actresses) torment and suffocate Micky’s quiet soul. He finds salvation in the hands of Charlene, a gold-hearted bartender played by Amy Adams.
When Christian Bale was accepting his Golden Globe for The Fighter, he said that it was easy to give a loud performance when he was being anchored by a quiet one, meaning Wahlberg’s character. I have to say I agree with this appraisal. I also find that it shows Christian Bale’s more professional and understanding side (as you might recall his reputation was marred by his crazy outbreak on the Batman set). The Fighter received two other Oscar nominations in the acting category, for Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. All three are richly deserved.
I think that the best thing about The Fighter is the felt-through depiction of sibling rivalry and all the problems that stem from it. Forget about boxing, this could have been a story of two musicians or politicians (maybe the Miliband brothers will get a movie made about them in the future).
It was quite sad to see the real Dicky and Micky at the end of the film, both seemed pretty worn out, their faces have clearly taken many a hit. A fun fact about The Fighter is that O’Keefe, Micky’s trainer, is played by the real person, this just makes the story slightly more endearing.