For a director who hasn’t really helmed a film that is primarily character driven, David O. Russell does a fine job of drawing the audience into the story and fascinating personalities contained within The Fighter; this is certainly more Raging Bull than Rocky.
The Fighter chronicles the early years of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward’s (Mark Wahlberg) career and his unlikely road that he took to obtain a shot at the world welterweight title. His drug addicted brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) has been to the top of the hill, ‘knocking down’ the legendary Sugar Ray Johnson, and is now training Mickey whilst setting up fights for him. His mother Alice is the manager, but Mickey doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere other than into a world of hurt, so with the help of his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) and an incident outside a restaurant which sees Dicky ending up in prison, Ward makes one of the hardest decisions of his life: to shut out his family in order to pursue success in a goal that he and his brother intended to accomplish together.
Whether it’s due to Wahlbergs performance or simply because he’s that darn good, Bale is without a doubt the star. Sure, Wahlberg has more screen time and is ultimately the lead actor, but I found myself wanting to see more of Bale. Not that there isn’t enough of him; a sub-plot sees him being followed for a HBO documentary, which he believes is profiling him on his comeback into the sport: when in reality its aim is to expose the harsh realities of crack addiction. Once again, Bale dives headfirst into the role, giving it his all in terms of performance and physically. He looks deathly ill in every scene, a far cry from the muscular Bruce Wayne, the role that shot him to stardom. He’s not a stranger to losing a massive amount of weight for a film though; in 2004s The Machinist he played a schizophrenic industrial worker who hasn’t slept for a year.
All this praise for Bale doesn’t mean that Wahlberg is terrible. If anything, his subtle and calm approach makes Bale look better; he doesn’t need to exaggerate too much to appear over the top, because Wahlberg simply drifts into the background of scenes involving the two of them. When he is called upon though, for example the boxing scenes, he really does pack a punch. The emotion that he portrays is a thing not seen frequently in modern cinema. One thing that stands out is the way the fights are filmed. Rather than take the conventional approach and film it as a film, O. Russell opted for a more unique look; the original PPV looking cameras and coverage. This approach is refreshing, as boxing movies often imitate the style first seen in Raging Bull.
The two main females, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo who won a Golden Globe for her efforts, round off a fantastic cast.
It’s important to know that The Fighter is a family drama first and a sports movie second. The boxing is just a common trait between characters. The most important and prevalent theme is the struggle of brothers who eventually overcome their demons to reach their shared goal. So for those expecting all out brawls, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed. But if you want a solid, character driven drama full of emotion and performances from actors who are at the top of their game, then… well, its a toss up between The Kings Speech and The Fighter. Who’s to say you shouldn’t see both though?