I don’t pretend to claim any strong ties to boxing movies (yeah, yeah, Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man – all good stuff). David O. Russell’s The Fighter, however, might be my exception.
The Fighter takes root in the true story of former boxer-turned-crack-addict Dicky Eklund Jr. and his younger brother Micky Ward. The film focuses on Ward’s struggle to build his own boxing career and make a name for himself in spite of his extremely dysfunctional family.
Contributing to the chaos is the undeniable fact that these brothers could not be less alike.
Dicky (Christian Bale) is a wiry goof who seemingly never tires of hearing his own voice. His distinction as the guy who “knocked down” Sugar Ray Leonard makes him a hometown celebrity in Lowell, Mass. – an ego-boost he’ll never let you forget.
Younger brother Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is a heavy-hitting welterweight (meaning he falls in the 140-147 pound range) with a tendency toward quiet contemplation and a sweetness you wouldn’t expect in a Massachusetts boxer. He’s learned the only way to cope with the endless noise – and boy do I mean endless – of his family is to contribute to it as little as possible. The relief Micky provides from all their yapping endears him to you immensely, and it plays up his strength beyond muscle-mass.
Like your movies to have a high crazy-to-normal ratio? I present to you: the rest of the Ecklund/Ward clan!
Uber-devoted matriarch Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) and with her band of frightfully ‘90s daughters provide enough collective insanity to make your head roll. And when I say frightful, I do mean terrifying. These women are, let’s say rough (the kindest descriptor that comes to mind), but they’re unyielding family loyal is impressive in an almost obnoxious way.
In the “making of” portion of the bonus features – which was fantastic and so worth the time, by the way – the producers spoke of a desire to harmonize the physical “guy movie” attributes with art-house style cinematography and emotional depth strong enough to pique a woman’s interest. They nailed it.
O. Russell’s used handheld camera shake, funky angles, and cart-driven motion, but not in the way you’ve seen it done so many times before. Every scene presented something new, and I don’t recall ever disliking the way something was framed.
Plus, Wahlberg (who also doubled as a producer for the film) pressed for the use of actual HBO crews to shoot every boxing match. This method of shooting the each fight as it would happen makes for impressively realistic shots. To top it off, the fact that the boxers are actually making contact while fighting certainly doesn’t hinder the realism, either.
Bale and Leo were brilliant, of course, and their Supporting Actor/Actress Oscar wins were well-deserved. Wahlberg’s dedication to truthfully portraying Micky is evident, especially when compared to the real Ward. O’Keefe, the Lowell cop who acts as Micky’s trainer, was so true to life, it could’ve been the real guy! – ohh wait…
Amy Adams took a huge leap from the meek, girly characters she usual adopts, but she pulled it off with impressive strength. As Micky’s bartender girlfriend Adams was pudgy and foul-mouthed, and not for one minute did I catch a glimpse of the sweet leading lady she plays so well.
Boxing may be at its center, but The Fighter is worth watching not merely for its stunning beatdowns but for its impeccable cast, tender message and the chance to watch a family mend itself unlike most you’ll see on screen.
Kathryn’s Rating: A-