The Fighter Review

The Fighter
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (screenplay), Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington (story)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Jack McGee

It’s easy to take a film like David O. Russell’s The Fighter for granted around award season. It’s minus the panache of the year’s other heavy hitters, and fills a comfortable ‘sports drama’ niche. O. Russell’s film may very well be among the ten best picture nominations announced next month, but it doesn’t have a shot at the title — which is a shame, because it earns greatness in its own right.

The Fighter isn’t the best film of the year, but it features some of the best characters and performances of the year, wrapped in a familiar but accessible underdog story with plenty of fresh hooks. Much attention has been paid to Christian Bale as boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s crack-addicted brother, and rightly so. Even among so talented an ensemble, Bale shines in his transformative turn, once again whittling himself down to little more than a human wireframe.

Bale probably receives too much credit for his wild weight swings, which have the tendency to upstage merely passable performances, but his talent as showcased in The Fighter is incontrovertible. This is best Bale has ever been, juggling pathos with a sense of humor I presumed lost after American Psycho. If The Fighter takes home one award, it’ll have Christian Bale’s name on it.

Bale is so vibrant in his role that it’s easy to forget to mention the strength of the rest of the cast; Mark Wahlberg contributes his best performance in years under O. Russell, with whom he’s collaborated before on Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. As an artist, Wahlberg may be guilty of poor taste more than anything else, as he has consistently proven more than capable a performer in the right hands. The same boyish naivety that made him a perfect fit for P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights shines through in The Fighter, which along with his physical formidability make him both believable and easy to get behind.

If I have a gripe about the casting, Amy Adams might actually be a bit too attractive as Ward’s love interest — a small town bartender and college dropout — but her performance sells it. Also fine are Ward’s destructive family, including Melissa Leo as the totalitarian matriarch, who is followed in tow by a gaggle of her fiercely protective daughters, and Jack McGee as the working-class dad who seems consistently out of his element among all the aggressive estrogen.

The Fighter is a terrifically acted film, but its real strength comes from the way its characters drive the story. Much of the drama comes from Ward’s poisonous relationship with his mother and brother (his manager and trainer, respectively), and his having to break free of their manipulation and neglect is a decidedly unorthodox angle for a sports flick. Those relationships motivate the narrative, and the result is a drama that runs like clockwork. The Fighter is engrossing, unpretentious, and an immaculate crowd-pleaser.

O. Russell and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In) deserve recognition as well for giving the film its distinctive visual flair. Of particular interest is the style and method by which the pair chose to shoot their fight sequences, which achieve some of the best faux-broadcast mimicry I’ve ever seen. The effect is initially so convincing that I assumed actual footage had been integrated from Ward’s fights — until Wahlberg stepped into the ring. From there, the camerawork is kept tight and the effect is satisfying and visceral.

Buzz films like Black Swan and 127 Hours will likely dominate much of the awards dialogue in the coming months, but The Fighter deserves a fair shake as well. Unlike last year’s condescending The Blind Side, David O. Russell’s sports drama isn’t exploitative, nor is it only receiving praise in the context of its Oscar-caliber performances. The Fighter is absolutely worth seeing, and not just for Christian Bale. It could be a contender. — Colin

SCORE: 3.5 stars

  • dangerdoom

    good movie but the boxing scenes were horrible, they were not accurate and the over the top sounds of the gloves hitting the were where quite annoying.

  • Strand0410

    Good, earnest movie but a bit too Oscar-baity.

  • kyri

    bale is Crazy man, isn’t that the third time?

    Just give him the Oscar already before he kills himself. I am sure he did drugs for this film as well (like he wasn’t already on)

    This movie has all the cliches, and I really mean ALL OF THEM but I enjoyed it. I really love Boxing movies..
    maybe The fact that it is based on a true story can make one forgive the unbearable lame ending.

  • T. Davis

    Did you get paid to write this? You didn’t see the same piece of crap the rest of us did. The push to build this up into something it is not is very disturbing. But, still nobody bought it and it is on it’s way out. Nobody cares about the golden glove. Is that a nice tan on a bald head?

  • Colin

    Davis, our differing opinions is clearly a sign of foul play.

  • Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale shine in THE FIGHTER ::

  • Andrew

    People who say it is oscar baity is so outrageously absurd and the only explanation to these people are that they didn’t see the film but watched the trailer and read the reviews. This is a David O Russell film, hence it is not oscar bait. He made Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster and I Heart Huckabees, which are the furthest things from Oscar bait possible. This movie has been in develpoment hell for years and the only reason it was made was because of Whalbergh and Russell… and Russell has yet to do any major press for the film and Christian Bale is no where to be seen.

  • Goon

    Saw this today and really disliked it. Come here and something I thought only I would have noticed:

    “good movie but the boxing scenes were horrible, they were not accurate and the over the top sounds of the gloves hitting the were where quite annoying.”

    YES. totally.

  • MissBop

    that film was awesome… I don’t even like boxing and even I could see the brilliant performances by both lead actors. Anybody who can’t see the skills of the actors, the film makets and the director/producers is clearly of low intelligence. We don’t always want to see things blown up and/or sex scenes to enjoy a film. Get a life and start to realise that brilliant movies are out there – and this is one of them! I give it 4.5 stars and I’m a tough critic.