David O. Russell’s new film, The Fighter, is about a dysfunctional family based on the boxer Mickey Ward’s turbulent life.
The Fighter tells the story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s (Mark Wahlberg) who’s attempts at a boxing career are always met with failure. Trained by his drug-addicted brother, Dicky, and managed by their manipulative mother, Alice, Micky struggles to escape his tight-knit family and carve a successful life of his own.
Dicky’s dramatic fall from grace and the fractured shards of his dysfunctional family spur Micky forward, tearing him down, yet building him up at the same time, leading him to girlfriend Charlene and a career-move to LA.
Shepherded by Wahlberg’s Micky and Bale’s Dicky, The Fighter builds its dynamic around the family, choosing to focus on the families relationship, rivalry and manipulation, rather than the boxing itself, which is seen as a form of escapism, for Micky in particular.
Wahlberg and Bale each inhabit their respective characters absolutely, their personaes played against one another to represent two brothers struggling against the odds to make a name for themselves in the world.
Amy Adams embodies Charlene with a magnificently arresting force, striving to free Micky from the cycle of exploitation and anxiousness he’s been stuck in for years, allowing him to reach his full potential.
Melissa Leo is boorish in her rendering of Alice; exploiting and disrupting Micky and Dicky’s quest for stardom and freedom as mother/manager Alice. She’s one of those women from hell, all cigarettes and chicanery.
Russell’s direction is wonderful, mixing docu-style with intense, evasive cinematography, constructing everything with a perfect sense of naturalism and vivid energy.
Disappointedly, the script doesn’t, at times, match up to the strength of the direction and performances. It fails to find the right balance between boxing film and family psychodrama, making it difficult for viewers to fully invest in the characters’ lives; never quite reaches the heights its premise is destined for.
The Fighter is a well-directed, powerful film, with some truly sublime performances, regretfully let down by an often poor and in-cohesive script.