The Fighter is the perfect award season movie. It’s based on a true story, it showcases some great acting, and it’s uplifting. It’s the type of movie that allows you to leave the theater happy and proud. How many times does that happen?
Director David O. Russell managed to bring a magnificent cast to this story about a working class boxer who is making one last push for a title. Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward, a welterweight whose career has been horribly mismanaged by his overbearing mother Alice (played by Melissa Leo).
In fact, his entire boxing career has been a family affair. His seven sisters frequently offer up unwanted opinions. What a treat they are, swilling beer in their acid washed jeans and sporting amazing bang claws on the top of the heads. They steadfastly stand behind anything their mother says.
His half-brother Dickey is Mickey’s trainer, whenever he is not passed out in a crack flophouse. Dickey just floats about, showing up whenever it is convenient. Poor Dad is too beaten down by Alice to speak up.
The family completely enables Dickey. Everyone knows what is going on with him, but no one dares to acknowledge it. After all, he’s the apple of their eye, because long ago, when Dicky was boxing, he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Dickey has been the pride of Lowell ever since. There is a documentary crew from HBO following Dicky around. He thinks it is for his comeback. It’s really to show the chronic effects of crack use.
Mickey finally gets a dose of common sense when a local barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams) takes an interest in him. It doesn’t take her long to come to the conclusion that his well-meaning family is dead weight. Mickey will never reach his true potential unless he cuts the ties to his family.
That concept doesn’t go over too well with the clan, and Charlene becomes their frequent target of verbal and physical attacks. Those girls fight dirty, and Charlene has no problems jumping into the center of it all. She’s a good old-fashioned heroine who stands by her man, no matter the cost.
Mickey starts training with someone else, and his brother is forbidden from interfering. Slowly Mickey starts making progress, and the underdog finds himself in a title match. I will tell you flat out, I can’t stand boxing, but my heart was in my throat during that whole match. It’s absolutely thrilling.
There is a lot of award talk for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale, but Wahlberg deserves some credit as well. He plays Mickey with a soft vulnerability that is fitting for his character. He’s always tried to please everyone else, and for the first time in his life, he’s putting himself first, with Charlene, a new coach and a new manager.
Bale has dropped weight (again) and manages to look like he is tweaking out of his mind through most the movie. Leo is tough as nails and wears the pants in the family. She thinks she knows what is best for her family, but she is actually sabotaging her own son with her iron-fisted ways. She’s excellent.
Her relationship with Dicky is particularly heartbreaking. Even though it is right in front of her, she can’t admit that Dickey is a total screw-up. He’s like the kid who always has a get-rich scheme, and the parents always believe him, even though he never comes through.
It’s a lot of fun to see Amy Adams as a foul mouthed bartender. It’s a nice departure from her usually wholesome roles.
The Fighter is a real crowd-pleaser. It’s an uplifting story about the perseverance of the human spirit, and a terrific ensemble cast is just icing on the cake. Everyone can enjoy this film, even if you don’t like boxing.