The Fighter Review


In this corner, weighing in at approximately 700 pounds—the dynamic acting foursome of Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Mark Wahlberg. And in this corner, weighing in at a whopping 2,000 pounds—a ton of dysfunctional family- and boxing-movie clichés. David O. Russell’s The Fighter was a real slugfest between these two opposing forces. Let’s see how it played out.

Dickie Ecklund (Bale) and his younger brother, Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) are townies from Lowell, Mass. Dickie is a washed up fighter, who once went toe-to-toe with the great Sugar Ray Leonard. He’s now his brother’s trainer and a crack head of the first order. Mickey has shown promise as a fighter, but is generally used as a stepping stone for more promising fighters to get a relatively easy win under their belts. As Dickie—and his and Mickey’s mother Alice (Melissa Leo), who is Mickey’s manager—becomes more and more unreliable, Mickey is urged by his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) to find a new team. He does so, and makes an incredible comeback, but when Dickie and Alice come back into his life, he’s forced to choose between his new team and his family.

Both fighters come out swinging in the first round. From the film’s first moments, Christian Bale captivates us. He has transformed himself, once again, into a rail-thin addict with a world-weary voice to match. It’s the kind of performance that commands our attention whenever he’s onscreen, and is certain to command the attention of the Academy come February. Mark Wahlberg, on the other hand, takes a few on the chin. He’s a little bland as the film’s lead, and while I appreciate that the character is a passive individual, I think there was more Wahlberg could have done to make him jump out at us.

Going into the second round, the actors step up their game and force the barrel of clichés into a corner. Amy Adams gives the film a welcome jolt of energy—and sanity. She grounds Mickey and helps him realize his potential without his family holding him back. The film’s strongest moments occur while he’s training with his new team and rising up the ranks once again. And although Dickie and Alice are compelling characters, too much of them—as happens in the beginning and near the conclusion—is a bit of a problem.

As the film reaches its third and final round, it’s clear that the actors are going for the knockout, but they don’t quite earn it. Everything comes together a little too neatly and happily for my taste. And little things about the film left a sour taste in my mouth. I thought it relied on musical cues a little too much. I also took issue with David O. Russell’s bizarrely ordinary direction (isn’t this the guy who made the brilliantly original I Heart Huckabees and the thrilling Three Kings?). And while I found the HBO-style cinematography during the fight scenes interesting, I thought it called too much attention to itself.

Ultimately, The Fighter is a minor victory thanks to its four main actors (even Wahlberg, who gets better as the film goes on). It’s a predictable and imperfect film—and I don’t quite get where all the love is coming from—but it’s a worthwhile watch and certainly something that will be talked about over the next few months, as the film inevitably gets some awards attention.

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