WHAT IT IS: The tale of boxer Micky ’Irish’ Ward and his brother Dicky, a flash celebrity, drug-addicted ex-boxer from Lowell, MA, and their common struggle to reconcile life, career and family. HOW IT IS: it’s no secret (and I think I’ve mentioned it a few times in my critiques) that I don’t like biopics. I think a movie — which, as an art form, feels closer to dreams — should work closely with and entice the imagination. That being said, a few notables distinguish The Fighter from the plethora of monotonous biopics we’re bombarded with.
First, let’s note the presence of David O. Russell as a director, better known for off-the-kilter comedy-dramas like Flirting with Disaster (1996), Three Kings (1999), a favourite of mine, and I ♥ Huckabees, one of the weirdest comedies I’ve seen. The strength of his direction is that these previous, personal efforts, more representative of Russell’s personality it could be argued, never transpire here in what has to be a direct and realistic depiction of a real-life family drama. That drama is the most uninspired aspect of the whole narrative, bringing to mind a myriad of similar boxing films. But instead of bringing his quirky sense of comedy to the mix, Russell decides to follow a realistic, documentary aesthetic, with a hint of his artistic sensibilities, a choice distant from his previous work. The realism pervades the whole movie, even affecting the magnificently shot, close-up boxing scenes, some of the most realistic scenes ever put to film. It’s interesting that Russell is showing interest in directing Hollywood blockbusters after having been an indie mainstay for so long, and it will be interesting to see what develops with him attached.
Russell’s work behind the camera being as spot-on as it is, none of it would’ve worked without the level of acting in this film. Melissa Leo is astounding as Alice Ward, the matriarch of the family, inhabiting her character so well that it was jarring to see her accept supporting actress awards as herself. It’ll be interesting to see how perception of her in other roles like Toni Bernette in the compelling HBO series Treme will be affected by her new-found accolades and the change in her celebrity status. Just as good, Amy Adams creates with her character palpable working class pathos, bringing a deeper understanding of Charlene’s romance with Micky, and the stakes involved in their pursuit of the American Dream. Christian Bale’s Dicky is a marvel, so meticulously crafted and executed, so beautifully distinct, that he sometimes distracts from the overall film, feeling, at times, like it’s the Christian Bale show and not an ensemble cast. In contrast, his counterweight, the subdued Micky, played by Mark Wahlberg, is eclipsed, seemingly relegated to secondary status. It’s good that Christian Bale saluted Wahlberg “straight” acting when accepting his Golden Globe or Wahlberg may have never gotten any recognition for his contribution, from his effaced presence to his physical preparation for the role.
The Fighter isn’t a classic by any means, plagued as it is by the tediousness of the biopic form. However, the sheer talent on display here makes it a worthy view.
IF YOU LIKE: Rocky; films about family like The Royal Tenenbaums, Junebug and You Can Count on Me; films on Massachusetts and its working class like Mystic River or Good Will Hunting.