|So, can you see me as the Riddler? No? Okay, I get it.|
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
The story of ‘Irish’ Micky Ward’s struggle to make a career out of boxing while balancing his destructive family situation, the trials and successes of his brother Dickie Eklund and the influence of a new woman in his life.
Acting is a really difficult thing to objectively judge, especially for the casual film enthusiast like myself. For me, a great performance achieves a very simple, very difficult goal – it makes me forget I’m watching someone act.
There are two truly remarkable performances in ‘The Fighter.’
Christian Bale inhabits the character of Dickie Eklund so deeply that you feel like you know the character – to the point that when the real Dickie Eklund shows up in the end credits you can see every audience member’s eyebrows raise. They’re all thinking the same thing – I already know this guy. Bale’s Dickie bounces and swaggers around the screen like a force of nature, owning every frame he’s in. It’s an incredibly different performance to any other we’ve ever seen him give and he makes a reprehensible character a guy you genuinely want to see redeem himself.
The second of the two great performances comes from one of my absolute favourite actresses – but it isn’t Golden Globe winner Melissa Leo – its Amy Adams. Like Bale, she’s playing against type, but her performance stands on its own no matter what we know about the actress. Convincingly tough, inartfully and charmingly profane, sexy as hell without being remotely glamorous, she plays every note of this character perfectly and throws away any semblance of self-awareness in the process. It’s a captivating performance, and a key scene late in the movie between Bale and Adams is the best one of the film, primarily because the performers are so engaging.
The other performances in the film are not quite as good, though the actors are excellent for the main part. Melissa Leo occasionally just overcooks her performance to the point of caricature, while Mark Wahlberg’s central role does the job in anchoring all the vibrant supporting performances. The reason I’ve spent the first part of this review discussing the performances is because they are the main reason to go and see The Fighter – and it is well worth seeing.
The boxing movie has a long and storied history in Hollywood and has far greater scholars in its corner (Ha!) than I. The Fighter hits your basic boxing movie touchstones – the initial loss, the shady characters, the training montage, the girl that gets her man back into the ring – but lifts those moments through a constant, realistic, believable sense of community.
The setting of Lowell, Massachussetts is beautifully portrayed throughout the film, so much so that when Micky and Charlene take a brief detour out of town you can tell straight away this isn’t the characters’ backyard. That sense of place is the film’s second biggest asset behind the performances – Lowell is a character in this film, a place our main character desperately loves and desperately wants to leave. We spend a lot of time there, time well spent that adds real weight to the time we spend in the ring.
The boxing scenes are placed sparsely enough throughout the film that they are genuinely excite when they come along – providing relief from the despondency we feel when spending time with the Wards (and particularly Micky’s sisters – the most cartoonish misstep the film makes, even if they are real.) They’re filmed with the right amount of physicality and energy but I always felt like Russell could have gone a little bit bigger with the climax of the fights, whether they be losses or wins. Boxing is such a purely emotional sport and Russell does a better job of catching the strategy and technique than he does the emotion.
You should go see The Fighter, what’s more you should go see it in the cinema. It’s not as good as the Social Network or the King’s Speech, but the performances are truly something to behold. Go for Bale, go for Adams, hell, go for Wahlberg. The Fighter is well worth your time.
The Fighter – 15/20
OVERALL RANKINGS FOR THE YEAR
The King’s Speech 17/20
The Fighter 15/20