The Fighter [8.2/10]

Year : 2010 | Genre :  Biography, Drama, Sport
Director : David O. Russell
Writers : Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
With:   Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo

This is a film that succeeds in spite of its lead, rather than because of it. “The Fighter” should be all about the boxer Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg), but instead it is about his crack-head brother, his wannabe-manager mother, his seven sisters from Hell and his hot-tempered girlfriend. I don’t know if this is entirely Mark Wahlberg’s fault, or if this is how David O. Russell envisioned Micky Ward’s character - either way, it’s not working. It feels as if anyone could have been the lead here. “Oh look, it’s our neighbor from across the street, playing in that movie with all these real actors”. I’m sorry Wahlberg, it is what it is.

So the film follows the early career of Micky Ward, who is losing fight after fight and feels more insecure about himself with each match. But this is not because he’s a bad fighter, it’s because he is trained by his brother and managed by his mother and so far he had no opportunity to value his potential. He's not even sure if he really has potential. He always lived in the shadow of his brother Dickie, who used to box too and who was not that great himself but Hey! He once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, you know ?. That is pretty much Dickie’s claim to fame and that’s why “they call him the Pride of Lowell” (it's not that clear who "they" are). In short, Dickie is a failed boxer who’s life is going down the drain as he gives into crack. HBO is making a documentary about him. He says it’s about his “comeback”. We see it’s about his drug use. But be that as it may, Dickie is still “the successful one" in their messed up family. He is now Micky's trainer – when he manages to wake up that is. Micky is sent by his mother in fights that he cannot possibly win, but they get their money just for him showing up and getting his beating, which is what matters, right ? Micky is loyal to his family and apparently not that bright, he cannot see that they are using him for easy money without putting his safety or reputation first. Alice, the manager-mom (Melissa Leo) is obviously much more fond her older son Dickie. But Micky really looks up to his big brother. “He's taught me everything I know”, he says – even though “what he knows” is just enough to make him endure a good beating.

Everything changes when Charlene comes into picture. Unlike Micky, Dickie, their sisters and pretty much everyone else around there, Charlene has a college education. Not that it did her much good, she’s now a bartender in Lowell with not much perspective to look forward to. But she feels she deserves more. She is intelligent, ambitious and also the prettiest girl around, so Dickie can’t believe his luck when she agrees to go out with him.

Micky’s relationship with Charlene seems to build up his confidence and she finally manages to get some sense into him and make him realize that his family doesn’t exactly have his best interest in mind. So when he receives a promising offer, he drops his mother as manager and Dickie as trainer and (with a lot of backup from Charlene) decides to go to Vegas and try to make something of himself. The confrontation scene is well played by both parties involved : Charlene on one side and Dickie, Alice and the sisters on the other, with Micky not really having a mind of his own but trusting Charlene more, and with mister Ward (Jack McGee) being on Charlene’s side as well because he knows that’s the best choice for his younger son. Things don’t end very nice, with screams and tears and even a cat-fight (Charlene can throw some good punches herself).

And so Micky and Charlene head to Vegas, where Micky gets some real training and some real management for a change, and starts winning one fight after another, each match getting him closer to the championship and bringing him more recognition.

Meanwhile Dickie ends up in jail. He feels hurt by his brother’s rejection. Even though he never really looked out for Micky, he does love him and he is proud of his accomplishments, he just wishes he'd be taken along for the ride. This is Christian Bale’s best achievement yet - and that says a lot since he’s done everything from independent films to blockbusters and was great in each one of them. But his transformation for this film is indeed remarkable. He is known for easily dropping or putting on weight for roles, but his personality, facial expression, manner of talking, gestures – everything about him is morphed into this character that he develops to perfection.

Melissa Leo too created a memorable and colorful character as Charlene, while Amy Adams was brilliantly intoxicating as Micky’s mother - Alice. Other than that, the sisters were great at being a mess. With big hair and big mouths, jealous, mean and not bery bright themselves, they were the perfect picture of what someone may call “white trash”. But every single one of these characters care about Micky, each in their own way, which seems to redeem them somehow into not being completely unlikable. 

There are also fights, maybe not as exciting as you may expect, but nevertheless well done. Still, what I think you will remember from the film are not the box matches and not Micky’s victories : you will remember Dickie. Sometimes you will find him despicable and other times he will win your heart entirely, he will always remain the focus of  interest and you’ll want to see more of him with every scene. And you will also remember Alice. And Charlene. At the end of the day, they are the ones who make this movie what it is.


My overall rating : 8.2 / 10

Rating per categories, 10 being maximum of points and 1 being minimum :

Directing : 8.5
Script : 8
Plot and Storyline : 7.5
Cinematography and visuals: 8
Characters and acting : 9


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