out of Five
Running time: 115
Impressively directed and superbly written, this is an emotionally arresting boxing drama with a quartet of terrific performances from Wahlberg, Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams.
What's it all about?
Nominated for seven Oscars (including Best Picture), The Fighter is directed by David O. Russell and based on the true story of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward. Set in small-town Lowell, Massachusetts in 1993, the film stars Mark Wahlberg as Micky, whose attempts to kick-start his boxing career are over-shadowed by his larger-than-life ex-boxer-turned-crackhead half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) and his domineering manager mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo).
Though both Dickie and Alice are supposedly committed to training and managing Micky, he eventually realises that he'll have to break free of them if he wants any kind of shot at achieving his dreams. Hope arrives in the form of a relationship with local barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), who encourages him to take control of his life and helps him stand up to his overbearing family.
The performances are terrific, with Bale, Leo and Adams all deservedly receiving Best Supporting Actor/Actress nominations. However, Wahlberg is just as good, delivering a quietly solid, engaging performance that anchors the film, even if it's less showy than his three co-stars.
The script is excellent, disguising the fact that, at heart, this is standard triumph-over-adversity fair (the comparisons to Rocky are more than justified) with punchy dialogue and a strong sense of place. It's also darkly funny in places – for example, there's a hilarious running gag about Bale's character always jumping out of the crackhouse window when his family come looking for him.
Russell's direction is impressive throughout, mixing different approaches and incorporating documentary-style footage (Dickie is followed by a film crew he thinks are making a film about his comeback) to strong effect. He also handles the fight scenes extremely well, particularly during the exciting, if predictable climactic bout.
If there's one small problem, it's that Bale occasionally appears to be going too far over-the-top; as with Rupert Friend's recent turn in The Kid, you spend most of the film thinking Bale is really over-doing it, until documentary footage at the end reveals the real Dickie and you realise the performance was actually note perfect. That said, it probably wouldn't have hurt to turn it down a notch or two.
Impressively directed and brilliantly acted, The Fighter is an engaging, well written drama that packs a powerful emotional punch. Highly recommended.