Sometimes when you go see an acclaimed film (by critics and movie goers alike) after everyone else you set yourself up for disappointment. The story does not hit you as hard and the acting does not seem as crisp. That was not the case for The Fighter. The story still packed as hard a punch as any Micky Ward absorbed in his career as a boxer and the acting is authentic and nuanced.
Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg – The Departed, Boogie Nights) is a 30-year-old road worker who has had a largely unsuccessful career as a boxer. His older step-brother Dicky (Christian Bale – The Mechanic, The Dark Knight) was also a boxer whose claim to fame was that he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (who appears briefly in the film), but is now a gaunt, twitchy crack addict who is his brother’s trainer. That is he trains him when he is not off getting high.
Besides the inadequate training he is also managed by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo – Frozen River, 21 Grams), who takes any fight offered to her even if the other boxer outweighs her son by 20 pounds. Her bottom line is her reputation as she does not really seem to have any confidence in Micky’s ability. Dicky is really the apple of her eye. It is really deeply dysfunctional and hinders any chance Micky has at greatness.
After a particularly brutal beating, Micky has had enough. He contemplates quitting boxing altogether. But ultimately his love of the sport and the nagging feeling that he has not accomplished everything he can draws him back in. With the encouragement of a new manager, Sal Lanano (Frank Renzulli – Broadway Danny Rose, Confessions of a Hitman), his girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams – Doubt, Julie & Julia) and trainer, Mickey O’Keefe (Mickey O’Keefe), Micky distances himself from his family and starts training and boxing again. This time is completely different and Micky is successful, but will the familiar and destructive pull of his family bring him down quicker than a roundhouse to the temple?
After watching the film I began to think about why Mark Wahlberg was not discussed in any of the Oscar nomination hype and then subsequently wasn’t nominated. Maybe his quiet and controlled performance was lost amidst all the fighting and verbal noise going on. Melissa Leo (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) as his mother is all busybody and blustery, Christian Bale (nominated for Best Supporting Actor) as his crack addicted ex-boxer brother is all twitchy, sweaty and gaunt, and Amy Adams (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) is foul mouthed and constantly fighting with his sisters. Wahlberg as title character Micky Ward, when he is not in the ring, spends a lot of time quietly on the periphery. Sometimes I get mad at the Oscar voters because they don’t recognize the quieter performances and just laud the noisier or showier ones. Sometimes being understated is harder than being the center of attention.
The story behind the film is fairly routine and conventional enough. It is a story that Oscar and we love with the underdog trying to accomplish something seemingly impossible. Don’t let the familiar story dissuade you from seeing this knockout of a film because it does have many marvelous elements. What I really enjoyed about the film was director David O. Russell’s (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) focus on authentically portraying the people and town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Working class, large families, Irish, and tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone and the brothers’ boxing triumphs and failures are felt by the entire community. It is no longer a story just about Micky Ward accomplishing the impossible in the ring. The story then takes on the allure about being more than a personal story rather it is the story of the trials and tribulations of an entire community.
The film does take a little while to get going, but once it gathers its legs underneath itself it is stirring, empathetic and powerful.