Film Review – The Fighter

The Fighter (M)

Directed by: David O. Russell

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

I am usually cautious of films that claim to be based on a true story or inspired by real events. Particularly the sport-themed ones. Did the down and out sport hero really overcome all the odds to put his career back into full swing and achieve his goals to the uproarious and tearful applause of his friends, family and spectators? Freeze frame, cue fade out and roll credits. Or is it just scripted that way for dramatic effect? When broken down, they are usually as factual as The Wizard of Oz.

The ones that get my attention are the ones that depict the events realistically whether or not they have been tweaked for the film. In other hands, The Fighter could have suffered a sport-TV-movie-of-the week fate. Made by other filmmakers, the story of boxing brothers, one a drug addict, the other an up and comer in his older brother’s shadow could have been altered so that the drug addict bowed to applause in the tear jerking climax.

Director David O. Russell may have a few cliches on his hands but the story unravels in a realistic way, with genuine locations and spot on performances adding to the authenticity. Decisions aren’t always easy to make here, no one emerges from a fight without a scratch and family bonds are hard to break.

In Massachusetts in 1993,washed up boxer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) still clings to his local legend status while choosing a life of hard drugs and bad company. His up and coming half brother Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) enjoys a few rounds in the ring but his full potential is not realised because his manager mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) keeps pairing him with the wrong competitors. Between his overbearing mother and unreliable trainer brother, Micky finds it hard to control his own career and finds it floundering.

When Micky meets college drop out and bar waitress Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), she gives him the support and confidence to take the reins in his career, a move that creates palpable tension within the tight knit family that includes seven trashy sisters. Micky must struggle with alienating his family for the sake of his career without actually cutting them off completely.

The tension-filled scenes between Leo and Adams threaten to hijack the focus from the brothers. They are certainly some of the more entertaining scenes as they offer the audience the chance for a nervous giggle or two. But this is what sets the film apart; it focuses on more than one character and the dynamics in more than one relationship.

Russell’s hand held camera work gives it a documentary-like feel and so does Bale’s commitment to his role. Bale not only acts the role but looks it as a drug addict. He has dropped a dangerous number of kilos again for his work (remember how eerily skeletal he was in The Jacket?).

I still have not warmed to Wahlberg as a dramatic actor. As solid as he is here, he is outshone by his fellow cast members. Bale draws focus anytime he is on screen with his showy shenanigans (he is often cartoonish), but Leo ‘s characterisation goes much deeper than her tragic out of date costumes and even Adams offers a glimmer of insight into a supporting role.

But every time Wahlberg’s voice lowers to resemble a 12-year-old girl’s, my skin crawls. It seems he can only play tough as nails, hard edged cops or sooky, mopey guys with no in between. The Fighter is still an impressive feature that side-steps most cliches and knocks other sport movies out of the ring.

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