No.184 (3/25/11)

The Fighter

By Robert Finley
Chief Writer

David O. Russell's biographical sports drama The Fighter tells the story of “Irish” Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg), a frustrated boxer looking for a break, and his down-and-out older half-brother Dicky Ecklund (played by Christian Bale), a former boxer who struggles with drug addiction.

The film opens with Micky and Dicky on a typical day in their lives. A film crew from HBO arrives to document Dicky's life, though Dicky is has the wrong impression as to why they are documenting his life. The film moves on to illustrate Micky's meandering boxing career, a career marred by mismanagement from his family, a poor training regiment, and bad breaks. His life takes a turn for the better once he meets a local bartender (played by Amy Adams), who helps him seize new opportunities while straining relationships with his cantankerous family.

Wahlberg is his usual aggressive-yet-endearing self as Micky. He effortlessly relays the frustrations and conflicts of the story and delivers every line in a very natural way. As it seems to be with Wahlberg, roles featuring tough guys with heart, morals, and every other cliche seem to fit him best, as he has the ability to make the characters feel fresh, or if not fresh, at least likable.

Christian Bale really steals the show here as Dicky, the drug addicted former boxer whose claim to fame is having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard years before. The film is as much about him as it is about Micky, and in a less-competent actor's hands, this role would have been a terrible caricature instead of the depressingly realistic role it was. Bale slimmed down substantially for the role, a tactic he previously used in his film The Mechanic. His total committal to the role engages the audience, making them laugh, wince, and feel for the character on the screen.

While Wahlberg and Bale ruled the screen for most of the film, the entire supporting cast was expertly selected by Russell, a meticulous director with an unusual reputation in Hollywood. Russell managed to avoid most all of the biographical film cliches present in virtually every biopic ever made, while staying true to the broad strokes of the actual events. This is a refreshing change of pace for Russell from his last major film I Heart Huckabees, which seemed inaccessible to a broad audience. With a 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and plenty of glowing reviews from critics all over, it's no surprise that the film is receiving awards nominations as the film awards season gets underway.

The film is rated R for language, drug content, some violence and sexuality.

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