Not an instant knockout, but a knockout nonetheless
Image: Paramount Pictures
Another year, another sports movie. This time it’s David O. Russell’s The Fighter starring frequent collaborator Mark Wahlberg.
Wahlberg plays “Irish” Micky Ward, a boxer from Massachusetts whose shot at the big time is slipping away with every fight. In his corner is his trainer and older brother Dicky (Christian Bale) and his mother Alice (Melissa Leo), who is more supportive of her eldest son, a former boxer turned drug addict. With his career in decline and a family more interested in reliving Dicky’s glory days, Micky must decide what’s more important, his family or his career.
Although The Fighter packs a strong ensemble cast, it takes a while to build up momentum due to a so-so script. Scenes of Micky training in the ring, forming a relationship with barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), and his suppression by his attention-seeking brother and a mother in denial are necessary, but the time spent establishing these events slows down the tempo and creates a sluggish first hour. This isn’t helped by Wahlberg’s laid-back, restrained approach, which leaves you wondering who the movie’s about as he’s pushed into the background and overshadowed by Bale’s dynamic Dicky (minds out of the gutter!), who gets added attention in the movie thanks to an HBO crew that is filming a documentary about Dicky’s life. Until the second half, which sees the addict thrown in jail, Wahlberg seems to be merely the glue holding some excellent pieces together. And while the glue is important, you don’t notice it.
Bale’s incarnation of the real-life boxer struggling to cope with life away from the spotlight is spot-on, as is Melissa Leo’s. Scenes of Dicky jumping out of crack house windows trying to escape from his mother, as well as the addict incessantly boasting about knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard are both tragic and comical, while Leo’s managerial role is played with great conviction and beautiful desperation as she tries to cling on to broken dreams. Wahlberg and Adams put in solid performances, and while this isn’t Adams’ best performance to date, it’s nice to see her step away from those innocent, naïve roles and go for something with a bit more grit.
Not as enthralling as other infamous boxing films: the script is occasionally slow and the fight sequences aren’t always captivating, but it develops into a stimulating, entertaining drama.