|The Fighter is a supremely well acted true life tale that packs a mighty wallop.
Although its title suggests the journey of a lone figure, The Fighter is in fact the story of two men: Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) and Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), half-brothers and boxers who hail from the blue collar neighbourhood of Lowell, Boston.
Eckland’s claim to fame was his near win over boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard, a feat which saw him become a minor celebrity known as “The Pride of Lowell”.
As the years passed Dickie’s boxing gloves were eventually traded for a crack pipe, and as he became lost in a haze of narcotic smoke, his brother Mickey emerged as a new contender.
Under the tutelage of his drug addicted brother and management of his colourful mother (Melissa Leo), whose deluded belief that Dickie will make a comeback saw her drop the eye from the prize numerous times, Mickey quickly becomes a punching bag against oversized opponents.
Even bigger battles are fought at home, with a toxic family dynamic the source of rich drama and even richer comedy, the latter especially found in the form of 7 sisters, so familiar in look and voice that they are akin to a 7 headed Boston monster.
For Mickey, his journey towards greatness started when he broke free from the suffocating air of his family, and into the arms of bar maid Charlene (Amy Adams), a positive influence in his life who offered loved and showed faith in his abilities.
But no matter the influences of the women in this story, The Fighter is a film which always comes back to the brothers; one fire, the other ice. One haunted by a missed opportunity, the other a champion eagerly waiting in the wings. And in the hands of Bale and Wahlberg, a formidable and memorable duo is created.
Bale is simply dazzling as Dickie, delivering with his method approach to his craft: gaunt, wiry, loud, full of anger and regret. Wahlberg thus counters with a soul deep portrayal, evoking that sincerity he does so well.
It is testament to Wahlberg that The Fighter was made at all. For 4 years Wahlberg (as a producer) struggled, with potential Dickie’s dropping by the wayside (Matt Damon, Brad Pitt) and Darren Aronofsky attached to direct only to move on.
It was from such great struggles that Wahlberg the producer delivered on two fronts. The first in the casting of Bale in what would be one of his greatest turns.
The second in the hiring of David O. Russell as director, a ballsy move due to Russell’s reputation as a bull headed and confrontational filmmaker, who hadn’t worked since his 2003 release I Heart Huckabees.
Russell breathes new life into the boxing movie, thanks to his gritty realities of the “sweet science” through HBO inspired fight scenes. He also taps into an authenticity in its Boston locales while evoking pitch perfect performances from his cast, with excellent supporting turns by a wonderfully loud Leo and a street smart sassy Adams.
Yet it is Wahlberg and Bale the gives The Fighter its heart and fire, in their portrayal of two survivors who made their community proud, and survived as a family.