Rental and Snacks
Based on a true story, the tale of Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund [note: between the film itself and various online sources, I have not seen one that agrees on the spelling of these guys' names] is one seemingly tailor-made for awards consideration. Eklund (Christian Bale) was a professional fighter who now (1993) is a local hero in his home town of Lowell, MA, and a crackhead. His little brother Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is going into the family business, but is a different sort of fighter than his elder brother. The difference is not just their physiques or fighting styles, though that certainly enters into it. The family idolizes Bale, and all but Wahlberg is in total denial of how lost their elder son really is. Wahlberg loves his family and he wants his shot, and is strangling in the arms of his eight siblings and his pushy mother/manaer (Melissa Leo).
The fights among the family are as vicious and injurious as the boxing matches around which their lives revolve. As a non-fan of the Sweet Science, the pain these people are continually revisiting upon themselves and each other seems pointless and horrible; despite this, Wahlberg actually helps me see his choice to box for a living as a reasonable life choice worth pursuing. This is not an inconsiderable achievement — willingly courting injury, disfigurement, and even incapacitation seems insane to me, and there I was rooting for Wahlberg to get away from his family and have the crap kicked out of him on national TV. Unlike Hilary Swank in most of Million Dollar Baby, Wahlberg looks to be in pain or in recovery from pain most of the time. He has to struggle so much just for the privilege of going home swaddled in bloody white bandages. When he meets Charlene (Amy Adams), his life starts to become his own. The venom his family spits at anyone outside the family stings like a stiptic — you root for Charlene to shield Micky while still not ruling his life. Always victims, trashy, insular, and omnipresent, the family is its own hydra character. Leo is tremendous as mom Alice, a hardass manager and tyrant of her husband and children. The gaggle of nameless, slatternly sisters trails like a group of sullen, overprocessed baby ducks in the wake of her tsunami.
If you love boxing movies, The Fighter does not skimp on the fights. It’s surprising how much time we spend in the ring considering how much ground needs to be covered narratively for Micky’s story progression. Bale wears his scrawny, agonized frame like a costume — it conveys his character’s true state under all the manly, championship posturing and bravado. Wahlberg is his usual accessible, muscular east coast self, determined and serious, yet somehow still cowed by his wafer-thin brother and shrill mother. Adams somehow helps us forget Giselle and remember Junebug‘s Ashley — here her porcelain skin and jewel eyes tar her as a skank rather than as a princess or an angel. The entire ensemble is tight, but the semi-disposable, interchangeable sisters seem to be real people brought in to de-glam the joint, a la the Ben Affleck school of extras casting. The performances are all solid, and the story is meaty, but The Fighter failed to fully engage me due to its over-reliance on match footage and swinging pipe. It is worth seeing for Bale’s and Wahlberg’s naturalistic turns as brothers locked tight in love and combat.
MPAA Rating: R – Language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.
Release date: 12/10/10
Time in minutes: 114
Director: David O. Russell
Studio: Paramount Pictures