The Fighter's Good, But Enough To Be A Contender?

Mark Wahlberg i i

hide captionA Contender: The fading junior heavyweight Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) takes a lot of hits — and takes them hard — in David O. Russell's The Fighter.

JoJo Whilden
Mark Wahlberg

A Contender: The fading junior heavyweight Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) takes a lot of hits — and takes them hard — in David O. Russell's The Fighter.

JoJo Whilden

The Fighter

  • Director: David O. Russell
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 115 minutes

Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.

With: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo

The Fighter is a mess, which I mean as a term of endearment. It begins in a pseudo-documentary style, with familiar actors pretending to be working-class people in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1993 — and Gawd do they hit those r's hahd. For a while, it's too disjointed; you can't tell what's at stake. But that messiness has an upside. It gives the characters room and the movie texture, so when it does get you, you're good and got.

The Fighter is based, very closely, on the real lives of two half-brothers, both of whom had boxing careers. Mark Wahlberg is Micky Ward, whose career when the movie begins is still in flux; Christian Bale is Dicky Eklund, once the quote "pride of Lowell" and now the subject — within the film — of an HBO whatever-happened-to documentary that Dicky thinks heralds a comeback.

Fat chance — or rather, alarming skinny chance, since Dicky is addicted to crack and possibly other things, and Bale is doing one of those "What a committed actor!" transformations and looks like he's dying of malnutrition. Dicky's claim to fame is that he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring, although it's a better than 50/50 chance Sugar Ray tripped over his own feet. Dicky's sensitive about that and many other things.

Everybody in The Fighter is sensitive, actually. Director David O. Russell loves the pugnacity, the bumptiousness, the random hurled punch or insult: Yah junkbag, yah skank. Micky and Dicky's mom Alice is played by that marvelous scenery-chewer Melissa Leo with bleached-blond hair and lots of cheap jewelry and she has a posse of big-haired daughters like some kind of four-letter-word hurling Greek chorus. Although Micky trains with his half-brother Dicky, there isn't much of a storyline until Micky meets a bartender named Charlene played by Amy Adams.

Adams, like Bale, has transformed: She gained a little weight, not much but enough to give her a cute little tummy and make her arms look they're used to carrying multiple pitchers of lager. And with her mouthy affect and big swarm of red hair, it doesn't take much to get her Irish up — it's already flying high. The Fighter really takes off when Charlene goes up against Mama Alice and the armada of sisters over who will oversee Micky's training — Charlene or Dicky.

"What's the problem?" Dicky asks, looking at Micky and Charlene sitting tightly together on a couch.

"The problem's like maybe you not showing up on time to train," Charlene tells Dicky and Alice. "Like maybe him having to come find you in a crack house when you're supposed to be at the airport."

Melissa Leo as Alice Ward i i

hide captionNot A Rocky Performance: Melissa Leo shines as Alice, Micky and Dicky's mom who goes up against Micky's girlfriend (Amy Adams) in a heated battle over who will oversee his training.

JoJo Whilden
Melissa Leo as Alice Ward

Not A Rocky Performance: Melissa Leo shines as Alice, Micky and Dicky's mom who goes up against Micky's girlfriend (Amy Adams) in a heated battle over who will oversee his training.

JoJo Whilden

"I'm sorry, I don't know who you are," says Alice, from across the room. "I don't know why you're talking."

That's such a wonderful scene because when Amy Adams locks eyes with Melissa Leo they're competing for Micky and for Best Supporting Actress and they're loving it; they're two amazing actresses in clover. And Wahlberg and Bale get a mano a mano thing going, too. Micky visits Dicky in prison to deliver the news that Dicky is no longer his trainer, that it's a guy named Mickey O'Keefe, who's played by Ward's actual trainer Mickey O'Keefe. The brothers lean in toward each and it's very intense and hard to understand… until the inevitable eruption.

The fighting, when it comes, is brutal — the real Micky Ward was known for taking loads of punishment, for being regularly pulped. Director Russell doesn't stylize the bouts; he doesn't go for Raging Bull slo-mo sadomasochistic poetry. You're just as aware of the people outside the ring screaming at Micky as Micky himself; he seems to feed on all that family drama, to need it the way Popeye needed spinach. For all those over-the-top accents and Oscar-bait performances, something about The Fighter seems ultra-real. You're meeting not a lone raging bull but an entire raging ecosystem. It could have been called, The Fighters.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: