Like its title, this is a story full of determination and fighting spirit, set in gritty and meagre surroundings, which unsurprisingly, bolster our empathy for its colourful array of characters. Considering The Fighter has got a few Oscar nods and a Golden Globe for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, alarm bells start ringing of yet another The Blind Side triumph in the making, following along the same lines of an underprivileged male come good and setting the world alight in sport. The fact that like the previous hit, director David O. Russell’s film is also based on a true story further cements its appeal and any awards it might attract.
The Fighter follows the bumpy rise to fame of Massachusetts boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and the influence of his mentor and nemesis half-brother, Dicky, who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s. It is solidly and weightily told, with Massachusetts native Mark Wahlberg in the lead playing Micky. Boston-born Wahlberg who is also the producer and worked on getting the story on the big screen for years may well be the best person to understand and hence play the boxer, considering he already has all the right traits and credentials and comes from a similar background, so is more than apt at fleshing out his character in this engaging character piece. Some might say it’s ‘a walk in the park’ for Wahlberg, and yet another ‘non-taxing’ role like others we’re used to seeing him in, such as that of Bobby Mercer in Four Brothers. The irony is, like his laid-back character Micky, Wahlberg brings nothing particularly new to the table, therefore, is instantly overshadowed by Bale in the commanding role of ‘The pride of Lowell’, Dicky Eklund.
If you were unaware that the usually straight-laced Bale was in the film, you could be watching and wondering just who is playing the ex-boxing star/hyperactive drug addict accompanying Micky at the beginning. Bale transforms himself, both vocally and physically, in a powerhouse performance that is both tragic and comical in equal measure. In fact, his character is the unintentional joker to Wahlberg’s rather austere presence. Coupled with a truly magnificent performance from Leo, who is equally unrecognisable as the loathsome, caustic and overbearing mother/boxing manager, Alice Ward, these two actors demonstrate why they have been nominated and won, providing the bittersweet humour and elevating The Fighter out of pure sports drama status and into a captivating study of family relationships, hence widening its appeal.
Amy Adams drops the cutesy act in this film as Micky’s headstrong girlfriend Charlene, showing warts and all, and giving as good as her character gets when she comes up against Bale and Leo’s forceful ones. As any ‘daughter-in-law’ will tell you, confronting the ‘out-laws’ is no easy feat, and there is a divine scene where Alice and daughters confront Charlene for not allowing them access to Micky, who they see as their rightful meal ticket, like a bunch of indifferent dole spongers. Adams fights for her position and shows them who is boss in an against-type role that rather suits her. She is just one of the many supporting talents in this film that make the experience so authentic in the relationship stakes – plus it has some impressive and realistic ring-side boxing, with the real Micky in a cameo.
This is a film about overcoming adversity, but not necessarily in terms of the sporting challenge, which is really a uniting/destructive subtext. It’s that’s also designed to make you bristle along the way as none of the flawed characters at all likeable to start with, conflicting with each other in the most annoying manner. But none are so awful that you don’t understand their point of view and predicament. It’s for this reason that, although a predictable rags-to-riches tale, The Fighter is an admirable piece of work because we grow to respect each character’s perceptions and forgive their faults, allowing them to win us over in a jubilant finale – a far cry from the schmaltzy The Blind Side.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie
(Follow Lisa on Twitter: @FilmGazer)