The StoryWe catch up with Dicky Eklund years after he had his last real shot at success in the ring. An HBO crew is following him around to document his comeback attempt, though only a short time later it's evident to all any chance Dicky had for a comeback is long gone. Dicky's biggest claim to fame is once knocking Sugar Ray Leonard down and he's quick to point that out, bringing it up in nearly every conversation. It had earned him the title "The Pride of Lowell," but now it's Micky's turn. He's the man of the hour, the fighter the family's resting its hopes on.
Unlike his drug-abusing, screwed up half-brother, Micky's a quiet man who lets his fists do his talking. Dicky's taken to hanging out in a squalid flop house, smoking crack and missing appointments to train his brother for an upcoming match. Micky, meanwhile, concentrates on getting into top physical shape despite all the drama surrounding his older brother. While working out to get ready, Micky also has to deal with an overbearing mother (Melissa Leo) who manages his career and seven sisters from hell who form a harpy chorus echoing everything their mother says.
The ActingThe Fighter is perfectly cast all the way around. Who would have thought Wahlberg and Bale would work as brothers? The unlikely pairing of two actors from diverse backgrounds with opposing acting styles is the crucial element in making The Fighter work so brilliantly. Bale physically transforms, once again losing a great amount of weight, to play the jittery crack addict who obviously loves his brother but is too often the anchor that drags him down. It's another stunning performance from the 36 year old actor, one made all the more riveting for the subtle changes he makes after Dicky cleans up and emerges from prison less manic but still a loose cannon.
Russell has selected an extraordinarily batch of actors to fill the supporting roles, from Jack McGee as Micky's long-suffering stepfather to the seven women who play the loudmouthed pack of sisters. Standouts in the supporting crowd include Melissa Leo as the pushy mother who manipulates her sons and nearly ruins their lives. It's the sort of character we've seen many, many times before but Leo puts her own stamp on the part and never lets it wander into caricature territory. Amy Adams is terrific as Micky's pull-no-punches girlfriend, going toe-to-toe with Bale and Leo and completely holding her own.
The Bottom LineThe Fighter is a brilliant film with an ensemble that does an amazing job of portraying the dysfunctional, complicated family and a director whose visual and storytelling styles fit the subject matter like a glove [boxing glove, in this case]. While the boxing scenes are nothing extraordinary and we know the outcome before the bell's rung - this is based on true events after all - what makes The Fighter a winner is being able to witness Micky Ward's sometimes traumatic, sometimes uplifting journey taken to becoming a champion. And you absolutely do not have to follow boxing to be able to be a fan of The Fighter.
The Fighter was directed by David O Russell and is rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.
Theatrical Release Dates: December 10, 2010 limited, December 17, 2010 wide