I’ll admit that the first trailers for The Fighter gave me the impression that it was yet another inspirational underdog “based on a true story” boxing movie with little to distinguish it from its predecessors. I had no doubt it would be very well made, it just didn’t look like anything I hadn’t already seen. If you felt the same way, don’t worry–the trailer’s just a little stale, that’s all. The Fighter is a thoroughly charming and itchily energetic little flick. Christian Bale indeed delivers yet another body-bending (and now Oscar winning) performance in a film full of them. Set in the early 90’s in Lowell, MA, it follows Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling welterweight boxer trained and managed by his brother Dicky Eklund (Bale) and his mother (Melissa Leo), respectively.
A lesser film would have painted the community of Lowell with a dark brush, and it would have been easy to do so. Its rowdy, working-class denizens and depressed post-industrial streets are a ripe set up for the quintessential “escape from the slums” boxing story, but director David O. Russell (Three Kings) sees it through the eyes of a resident–as a raucous, eccentric place to be from. Even a crack house that figures prominently is not so much a threatening pit as it is a sort of overgrown treehouse where the loser kids waste their lives. Micky’s army of sisters, who go by names like “Pork” and “Red Dog,” are part Greek chorus, part West Side Story gang. They, and their mother (Leo, always a highlight in any cast) don’t get along well with their brother’s new squeeze (Amy Adams) but as nasty as they get towards her, she doesn’t buckle. And that’s the great thing about The Fighter–it doesn’t even occur to its characters to be victims.
Of course this is a boxing movie (yes, based on a true story and all that), so there are the requisite scenes of training, injuries, and dramatic underdog matches. But it’s all done with such humor and verve, it never drags. Though it isn’t very showy about it, the editing is some of the best of the year, with sharp cuts that heartily propel the action and even sometimes make nice little visual puns. Wahlberg is nicely low-key as Micky, which may be why he didn’t get a lot of awards attention. It’s a great delight to see Adams and Leo spar with each other, just as it is to see Bale sporting some fantastic cheap M.C. Hammer-esque pants. This is one of those feel-good, inspirational tales that’s also funny as heck. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 3/15/11