At the forefront of the Oscar battle is ‘The Fighter’, ostensibly just another sports movie about a kid from a tough background and overcomes the odds to fulfill his destiny. So what is it that makes this sports movie stand out so much?
The true story on which the film is based, thoughnot one of legend, is certainly fertile territory for a gritty drama. The Ward family consists of overbearing mother Alice (Oscar nominee Melissa Leo), long-suffering father George (Jack McGhee), a collection of ghastly daughters from several fathers, and a pair of boxers on whom the family rely for much of their income.
Director: David O. Russell
Writers: Scott Silver (screenplay), Paul Ramasy(screenplay)
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams
Dicky Ecklund (Oscar nominee Christian Bale) is the older brother, and he is idolised not only by his mother and sisters, but by much of the community. He enjoyed a lot of success in his prime as a boxer, the pinnacle of which was a fight in which he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. He is now supposed to be the main trainer of brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) a brawler who is quickly becoming known as a ‘stepping stone’ for better fighters. The trouble is that Dicky is gradually being destroyed by his crack addiction and, worse still, is wasting time under the delusion that the documentary crew currently trailing him are filming his comeback – rather than his battle with drugs.
Into this melee walks sassy barmaid Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams, who is yet another Oscar nominee on this cast list). She is quick-witted, intelligent and determined, and when she begins a romance with Micky, she takes it upon herself to straighten his life out and get his boxing career back on track.
The combined elements of family drama, personal tensions, and sporting excellence are finely balanced. To the untrained eye it might seem like an unwieldy attempt to emulate both ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Rocky’ at the same time, but such a judgement would be harsh on film that strives more to capture every pressure building on Micky, a man trapped at the centre of some powerful forces, than to emulate any other story.
The performances have rightfully been lauded. Bale’s take on Dicky Ecklund, as some real-life footage at the end of the film shows, captures every ounce of his charism and charm that bubble beneath his troubled exterior. Leo performs perfectly well as the overbearing mother, exuding a diabolical energy that has only recently been matched on the big screen by Oscars rival Jacki Weaver.
Amy Adams matches Leo on grim determination, but somehow bringing an extra je ne sais quoi to her persona that makes her so magnetic to Micky.
As has already been said many times, Wahlberg is the under-appreciated piece of the puzzle, delivering a perfectly understated performance that ties the whole piece together.
Which brings me to my final point. This is, I think, what makes ‘The Fighter’ such a great film. It is not originality, or impact, it is the wholeness of the subject. The unity of themes, the believability of events, and the impact embedded into every curcial scene: whether it be a pulsating boxing match or a painful slanging match.