David O. Russell’s boxing biopic The Fighter (2010) may not have won as many Academy Awards as it would have liked to, but the awards it did win (Best Supporting Actor gong for Christian Bale and it’s sister statue for Melissa Leo) were rightly deserved – although Geoffrey Rush’s performance as Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech (2010) came a close second to Bale’s typically “method” tactics.
But the star that really shines through in this assured and enjoyable Rocky (1976)-like tale is Mark Wahlberg, who gives a subdued yet incisive performance as legendary fighter “Irish” Micky Ward.
Bale may have stolen all the headlines as the brother and crack-addict trainer, but Wahlberg was the linchpin of this project – the yin to Bale’s yang and whose Micky holds the film together when it could have so easily run away with itself. To his credit Bale graciously acknowledged that he couldn’t have got away with his ‘big’ performance without the understated Wahlberg, who also worked as producer on the feature.
Wahlberg stars as real life professional boxer Micky Ward, a young, downtrodden kid from the working class suburbs of Lowell, Massachusetts, who has aspirations of becoming a welterweight champ in his profession. Everything seems set for a ‘rags to riches’ parable until we discover that his brother Dicky, himself a former boxer, has become a slave to his own crippling addiction to crack cocaine.
With Dicky unable to get into the corner and support his younger, less-experienced brother, Micky soon finds himself tasting defeat after humiliating defeat. Emotionally down in the dumps, he finds a new girlfriend in a feisty local barmaid Charlene (an impressive Amy Adams). As he becomes more involved with Charlene and Dicky’s addiction becomes progressively more active, Micky finds himself in an ongoing battle of pleasing everyone, a stoic who tries to meet the needs of his lover, brother and over-controlling and vicarious living mother, Alice (played by an excellent Melissa Leo).
The film itself comes across as a punchy but lightweight companion piece to Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008), but within it, Russell does demonstrate moments of pure artistry, as with one particular shot near the beginning after Dicky and Micky have paraded down the street an exhilarating whoosh takes place as the camera rapidly tracks back and zooms out, recoiling from the scene of the two brothers in arms. But significantly, and somewhat negatively, Russell does not try anything drastic to subvert the genre and at points, the film is hopelessly tied to generic convention, even down to the stale montage sequences.
Elsewhere, Wahlberg seems to be coming to realise that he’s at his best when playing family dramas (The Yards (1999), Four Brothers (2005), Boogie Nights (1997)) and Melissa Leo gives a spellbinding performance as the formidable resident matriarch and familial heavyweight, Alice. It’s a solid movie and it packs a hefty punch but unfortunately this is one fighter that doesn’t deliver that definitive K.O. blow.
Extras include commentaries, deleted scenes, and an hour-long documentary, “The Warriors Code”, which tracks the film-maker’s fast-and-loose progress on the streets of Lowell, and features the real-life faces behind the feisty fairytale action.