:David O. Russell
: Scott Silver
, Paul Tamasy
, and Eric Johnson
: December 17, 2010 (USA)
: R for language, drug content, some violence and sexuality
: 116 minutes
: Mark Wahlberg
, Christian Bale
, Amy Adams
, and Melissa Leo
: Every dream deserves a fighting chance.
Take it all the best ingredients of 80’s boxing movies, throw in a struggling Irish boxer and crackhead brother living in the impoverished slum of Lowell, Massachusetts and you have The Fighter. Directed by David O. Russell, The Fighter is based on the life of retired professional boxer Mickey Ward on his quest to become the WBU boxing champion. “Marky” Mark Wahlberg plays “Irish” Mickey Ward, a boxer who beat all odds to become the welterweight champion of the world. Christian Bale plays Mark’s brother, Dicky Ekland, a former boxer turned junkie who lives in a crackhouse and acts as Mickey’s trainer.
For a boxing movie, there really isn’t a whole lot of boxing going on. The majority of the story centers around Mickey and his family’s struggles with their inner demons. Besides the external fights Mickey encounters in the ring, he also wrestles with his brothers longtime crack addiction and a fluctuating and turbulent relationship with his love interest, Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams).
Acting is generally not a strongpoint of boxing films, but it is arguably the strongest point in this film. Christian Bale, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his performance, is an absolute standout. His realistic portrayal of a crack junkie is rigidly convincing. In fact, his performance is so powerful that I found myself more interested in his struggle with drug addiction than the main story itself. His transformation from drug addict to family man is a heart-wrenching journey that will leave the viewer on edge. Other standouts include Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams, who both have captivating performances and who’s tempestuous love story serve as some of the movies back-drama.
The cinematography from David O. Russell is loose and gritty, exactly what you need in a boxing movie. His use of hand-held and POV shots takes you right into the ring alongside Mickey, putting you in the center of each fight. His camerawork has a brutal realness to it, unlike conventional boxing films that exaggerate what really goes down in the ring. Russell also employs the typical boxing slow-mo shots familiar to fans of the genre, but does so sparingly as to not come off gimmicky.
The music fits well over the contrast of the movie. Mostly a blend of classic rock staples and a melodious score from Michael Brook. There's also the typical boxing workout scene that includes the foot-stomping anthem "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" by the Stones. It comes off as less trite than previous boxing films, and the song is a much better alternative to "Eye of the Tiger."
Face it: boxing films have been at a low point for a long time. It’s an over-clichéd genre that has been done over far too many times and all the Rocky spinoffs in the world can’t save it. But I can honestly say that The Fighter is one of the best boxing films I’ve seen in a long time. It easily can be thrown among the ranks of Rocky and Scorsese’s Raging Bull. Yet, like Raging Bull, it aspires to be so much more than just a boxing film. It also stands strong as a drama, biography, and lessly, a romance—and for everything it does, it does well.
Despite an untimely death, boxing films seem to be making a steady comeback. With films like Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man, and now, The Fighter, boxing films are resurging as a strong force in the movie industry once more.
In the end, The Fighter is a great film no matter which way you look at it, and will hopefully open new doors in the genre. Oh yea—and it’s also got a lot of heart.