Plot: Based on the true story of boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his rise through the Welter Weight boxing division. Set in Lowell, Massachusetts, Mickey deals with his overbearing family and crack addict brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) who tries to manage Mickey’s career but becomes a liability due to his disastrous behavior.
The title of the film, the Fighter, relates to Mickey Ward only in name. This is Christian Bale’s movie as he plays Dicky Eklund, a once famous boxer whose claim to fame was knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard. He’s now broken down, addicted to crack, and played with perfection by Bale whose Oscar seems inevitable. Everything about the Fighter is decent, including David O. Russell’s direction and the script, but its Bale’s performance that elevates it from an okay movie to a very good movie.
Playing Dicky Eklund required both intensity and vulnerability. There are scenes in which Eklund is watching an HBO documentary on crack addiction in which he features a prominent role. As he watches from prison, he takes it with a grain of salt, but when they show his kid in the film, he breaks down. The transformation of emotion Bale conveys is damn impressive to watch. There are also moments when he’s jumping out of crack houses into the garbage to avoid his mother which are both funny and sad at the same time.
Speaking of the mother, Melissa Leo plays Alice Ward, mother of both the main characters. Her best scenes come when she is on the phone with Dicky in prison as she watches Mickey fight on TV and Alice breaks down what’s happening in the fight. Her range of expressions is perfect just as if you were watching a fight. Her character is interesting because she comes off as detestable at times. Mickey has a chance to reach new heights with his career, but Alice can’t stop mentioning how Dicky fought Sugar Ray that one time, which was many years ago. Her performance is still that of a nurturing mother, so it’s hard to completely dislike her. Leo plays the two personalities very well.
Amy Adams is also great as Charlene, Mickey’s girlfriend. She’s very fiery as her motivation is completely driven by breaking Mickey away from his crazy family, believing this will give him more focus and success as a fighter. You generally side with Charlene, but the film does a good job of pulling you back and forth between Charlene and Dicky/Alice as which side is right for Mickey.
And that leaves us with Wahlberg’s performance as Mickey Ward. It’s not that Wahlberg is bad, but he completely melts away compared to everyone else on screen. He especially cannot keep up with Bale. This hurt the movie significantly as a stronger force was needed for the main character. Although Mickey’s character in itself is not a strong individual as he is constantly being told what to do, but I’m always thinking about the other characters when he’s on screen. It slows down a lot when he’s not with Bale, Adams, or Leo.
Aside from a few good performances, the film is okay. The fighting sequences are forgettable, but not terrible. If you’re looking for a film strictly about boxing, this may not be for you. Bale elevates the movie to the point where you should definitely see it. Especially towards the end where he gives a speech to Mickey that is just riveting. All of the true emotional moments involve Bale’s character. Whenever the story focuses on Mickey Ward, it’s just not that interesting. And that is the movie’s true downfall and what keeps it from being great.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (very good)