Stop me when this starts sounding familiar- A young man growing up in an economically distressed area find that the only way out of his situation is to become a boxer. But the odds are stacked against him. He struggles to get noticed by the big promoters and is held back by his family. However, with the love and encouragement of a good woman and a couple lucky breaks, he eventually becomes world champion.
The Fighter is similar to just about every boxing film in history. Sure, there are enough differences to make it unique, but if you’ve seen Rocky, Cinderella Man or any other boxing movie, you’re not going to be that surprised.
So, why should you see it? You should see it for the acting. It features a number of the most underrated actors working to date putting on a acting clinic.
The film is based on the life of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). Ward went into boxing, following in the footsteps of his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Eklund’s claim to fame is that he knocked Sugar Ray Leonard down in a nationally televised fight. But Dicky is now a crack addict at the very bottom of his downward spiral. But don’t tell that to the boys mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), who hampers Micky’s more promising career in favor for a comeback for Dicky that will never happen.
Dicky and Alice are the kind of real-life, over-the-top bombastic characters that actors dream for. They are also the kind of characters that actors can easily slip in scenery chewing and parody with. Bale and Leo never do so. Both actors fully immerse themselves in the characters making them almost unrecognizable in their roles. But with all the characters tics and showy character flaws, neither allows their performance to slip away from the human and into the cartoon. Oscar nominations are a given for Bale and Leo, and I’d be hard pressed to see anyone steal the statues away from them.
The bravura performances by Bale and Leo make me feel sad for Wahlberg and Amy Adams. Wahlberg does his usually stoic performance as Micky, who is essentially the lead in the movie yet completely overshadowed Bale’s Dicky. And Adams plays well against type as the foul-mouthed barmaid who becomes Micky’s paramour, but her role is essentially “the girlfriend” part.
David O. Russell does show flashes of brilliance in his direction, especially during the fight montages. And the anachronistic rock soundtrack really brings home the fact that the characters are living in the past.
You would not be wrong to say that The Fighter is your prototypical sports Cinderella story. But the strength of the acting rises it above the rest of the genre.