“The Fighter”

     “The Fighter” is said to have been Mark Wahlberg’s personal crusade in Hollywood.  He has stopped at nothing to get this film made and tell the story of “Irish” Mickey Ward and his drug addicted brother Dicky Eklund.  Put me in with the group that’s glad he got it done because you won’t find a more inspirational sports film in 2010.  The Fighter is the film I would classify as being in the slot “The Wrestler” occupied two years ago.  A well done sports film with across the board solid acting and a great story.  Of course, unlike The Wrestler, The Fighter is a true story and that gives it an even bigger punch.

     The story follows Mickey Ward (Wahlberg), a struggling boxer who has as many problems outside of the ring as he does in it.  Sadly for Ward, these problems are not his doing as he is surrounded by perhaps the most disfunctional, selfish, and self serving family I have ever seen depicted on screen.  His mother, Alice, is his manager and uses her son for her own financial gains, making back room deals with promoters no matter what the cost to Mickey in the ring.  He also has a collection of disturbingly ugly sisters ( 7 of them I think ) who all are grown adults and still living at home with their mother.  These low lifes are clearly in it for the perceived fame Mickey can give them and at any time if they sense someone is swaying him in a different direction, these vermin take swift action to further their self absorbed cause.  You’d think Mickey would be grateful he has an older brother to help him counter his sisters and their absurdity right? Not this brother.  You see, Dicky (played masterfully by Christian Bale) is a crack addict and also happens to be Mickey’s trainer.  If he shows up on time to Mickey’s training sessions it is viewed as a miracle. A fun sub plot in the film has an HBO camera crew following him around.  He thinks its because they are making a film about his comeback.  In truth, they are making a film about crack addiction. Everyone knows the problems he has.  Everyone knows what house he’ll be at.  But no one in the family will meet the problem head on.  Probably because they are all equally as screwed up, just in different ways.

     As the story progresses, Mickey finally gets a clue.  If he is to realize his potential, he has to change trainers and get his mother and brother out of his professional life.  Helping him do this is his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) and his newly promoted co-trainer O’Keefe.  They right the ship, and the film then follows Ward’s “Rocky” like rise to the Welterweight Championship.  The boxing scenes are filmed television style by director David O. Russell and this method brings a certain reality to the fight footage.  Ward seemingly uses a similar style as in the Rocky films, that being tiring out your opponent by making him punch himself out and then throwing nasty body shots to finish the fight.  Wahlberg sells these scenes as good as anyone I’ve seen do it on film and the fact the choreography is based on actual fights that really took place makes the scenes even more powerful.

     I would expect to see Wahlberg, Bale, and Adams in the conversation come awards season.  These are three fine actors who have found great roles which play to each of their strengths.  Wahlberg, like Stallone in his early years, plays the underdog role perfectly and as he gets his head screwed on right during the film, it’s always uplifting to see him succeed.  Bale’s transformation from normal person to crack addict in this film is nothing less than astounding.  He seems to be willing to do what ever it takes to bring a character to life and this work in particular may be his finest to date.  When Adams first appears in the film, you immediately sense she will right the ship.  Sometimes you need someone to come along and tell you like it is and in this case, Mickey needed to separate his personal and professional life.  His mother was no more qualified to be a boxing manager than one of his sisters.  Dicky was just dead weight with his drug problem, but in the end he comes through.

     Perhaps Dicky coming through is why The Fighter is such a great film.  Certainly, the audience would expect Mickey to come through, after all this is his movie right?  I think that is why The Fighter was so satisfying.  Both of the brothers are victorious in their lives.  Dicky defeats his addiction and becomes an important and necessary part of his brother’s team.  Mickey beats the odds and realizes his potential as a fighter, winning a world title.  A feel good story for sure, but not without a few bumps in the road. That’s life.  GRADE: A