For me, that movie is The Fighter.
This gritty, real-life story has been brought to the screen by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and director David O. Russell, and it’s just an awesome, beautiful film.
Wahlberg, who also produced, stars as “Irish” Micky Ward, the boxer from Lowell, Mass., who fights to overcome adversity both in and out of the ring. Micky is being groomed by his older half-brother, Dicky (Bale), to be a welterweight champion and to capture the title that eluded Dicky when he chose drugs over the sport. Now, Dicky’s struggles with crack are threatening both his life and his brother’s career.
The Fighter is about boxing like The Social Network is about Facebook — which is to say, that’s not really the point of the film.
Rather, The Fighter is a story about a man and his brother, and how strong those ties are.
No matter how self-destructive Dicky may be, no matter how Dicky (the former “Pride of Lowell”) disappoints him, Micky is fiercely loyal. And not just to him but to his entire family (including his mother, played wonderfully by Melissa Leo). Micky’s never been the one in the spotlight, and when he finally gets his chance to go for the title that has so far eluded him, will he stay loyal?
Wahlberg spent almost a decade working to getting this film made, and get in shape, and his passion is all over the screen — most notably in his quiet, controlled, soulful performance. I’ve never seen him this good. Hopefully he’s got his tux ready for the Oscars and Golden Globes and SAG Awards, etc.
And yet, as good as Wahlberg is, Bale dominates this film. He has the accent, the mannerisms, and the look down (as proven by a short clip of the real Dicky that plays over the closing credits). This is one of those showy, transformative performances (Bale lost about 30 pounds for the role) that attracts attention from awards voters, and it’s captivating. You can’t look away.
I’d consider Bale to be a lock for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Rounding out the cast is Amy Adams as Charlene, Micky’s girlfriend, who sees the potential in him that Dicky has nearly derailed. It’s an against-type performance not in the same league as Wahlberg and Bale’s, but Adams holds her own.
Like Ben Affleck did in The Town and Gone Baby Gone, director Russell imbues the film with a real sense of Boston-area place. This is a working-class film set right on the streets of Lowell, where Wahlberg’s Ward often feels like he’s let down not only himself but his neighbors and fellow townies. When he and his brother are on top, they’re celebrated in the streets.
Russell gets the tone of the film right, keeps the action moving, and yes, has elicited some great, impressive performances from his stars. He also deserves some kudos for using the Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now?” in an effort to amp up the mood at various points.
The Fighter runs the emotional gamut: It’s heartbreaking, inspiring, powerful, exciting, devastating, and ultimately, uplifting. Parts of it will test your strength of will not to get teary, and parts of it will make you stand up and cheer.
The Fighter instantly takes its place towards the top of my year’s best films list. You must go see it.
I’m giving The Fighter an A–.