Not since “Rocky” have I been moved to tears by a movie about a boxer. “The Fighter” managed to leave me shattered — but in a good way.
A true-life account of two brothers, the powerful boxing movie directed by David O. Russell is not your typical sports film. In fact, I would venture to say it’s a picture about family dynamics with well-choreographed fighting sequences peppered throughout. Sure to hold the intellectual’s interest, there is enough emotional strife without becoming melodramatic and for the action enthusiast the boxing scenes are pretty brutal without being gratuitous.
Set in Lowell, Mass., the story is about brothers Dicky (Christian Bale) and Micky Ecklund (Mark Wahlberg). Dicky was a boxer who may or may not have knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard. Unfortunately, drug addiction ends his boxing career relegating him to becoming a trainer. For years, the elder Ecklund instructs his brother. Living vicariously through him, he gives Micky counsel on how to best his opponent. But, eventually, Dicky’s bad habit becomes detrimental and Micky, at the behest of his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), decides to dismiss his brother once he is arrested and sent to jail.
Meanwhile, Micky’s overbearing mother and manager, Alice (Melissa Leo), is determined to hold onto the reigns. She doesn’t appreciate Charlene’s interference and, in an amusing scene, she along with her seven daughters, attempt to put a stop to her meddling. This, of course, puts Micky in the middle, but forces him to take a stand and do what’s best for himself and his career.
David O. Russell should be commended for his fantastic work here. Although the movie clocks in at just less than two hours, I couldn’t help but feel cheated. So very invested in the characters and their journey, I wanted more. At the edge of my seat during poignant moments, I was completely enthralled. The pacing was perfect. There were no unintentional lulls — just moments of substance.
Mark Wahlberg impressed me. Sure, at times he gets a bad rap. But in “The Fighter,” he was more than adequate. He conveyed the frustration Micky harbored toward his then-toxic family and elevated his performance in any scene with Christian Bale.
Then there’s Leo, who was jarringly perfect as the enabling and manipulative Alice. She was so fantastic in the part that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her husband George (played by Jack McGee), particularly when she hurls a frying pan at him, striking him square in the shoulder.
As spitfire Charlene, a college dropout who has definitely been around, Amy Adams leaves her cute comfort zone. She’s a tough, no-nonsense kind of girl who delivers some of the best lines and throws a mean punch, too.
But the actor everyone will be and should be discussing is Christian Bale. As Dicky Ward, Bale proves just how versatile he is. Thirty lbs. lighter, but not as terrifyingly thin as he was in “The Machinist,” he channels the real life Dicky. There is no trace of Bruce Wayne or Patrick Bateman or remnants of Bale himself. As evident during the final moments of “The Fighter,” Bale is simply genuine.
I cannot forget to mention the well-crafted screenplay. Written by screenwriters Scot Silver, Paul Tamasay, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington, the actors are given more than enough material to work from and the director, adequate substance to lead. It took a few years to bring this story to fruition. Four in fact. That’s how much time was needed to get Wahlberg into boxing shape, giving testimony to the actor’s conviction. It was definitely time well spent.
Go see “The Fighter” this weekend. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll cheer. Most of all, you’ll leave the theater fulfilled.
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