Director David O. Russel paints a portrait of a self-destructive, self-absorbed, self-loathing family that loves each of its members in its own special way. As the story unfolds, the audience is gradually presented with this question: Is it okay to be used if you’re being used by your family?
The film follows the life of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) as he struggles to stop his family from stunting his personal and professional growth. It’s based on a real-life story and the director seems quite keen on staying faithful to that story. From the fight scenes to the ending credits (which show off the real Wards that the film’s characters are based on), Russel strives for verisimilitude.
That feel of authenticity is bolstered by the incredible performances onscreen. The Fighter begins and ends with Christian Bale. There’s a reason. Playing the primary protagonist’s brother, Dicky, Bale delivers one of the most nuanced, charismatic, and deeply depressing roles of his career. Every moment he’s onscreen, all attention is immediately diverted to him. You can’t help yourself. Like Daniel Day Lewis, Bale practically vibrates with onscreen bravado. This is one of the best performances of the year.
Likewise, Melissa Leo (as Micky’s mother Alice) and Amy Adams (as Micky’s girlfriend, Charlene) deliver terrific performances. Each of them acts as opposite magnetic poles attempting to pull Micky towards them. The actresses both put their entire emotive weight behind each of the roles and add to the emotional dynamism of the film.
While the performances are Oscar-caliber, the rest of the movie doesn’t hold up quite as well. It’s not a bad movie (in fact, it’s a very good one), but the pacing can feel sluggish at times and the movie feels overlong by the end. The actual boxing sequences are presented with (what I assume to be) great accuracy to how the sport is actually fought, but they’re not very exciting.
Finally, the movie does a very good job setting up all of the dysfunctional elements of the Ward family, but it never delivers a satisfying conclusion to that arc. The audience is left wondering if anything has changed within the family dynamic by the end of the film. The exception to this is with the brother, Christian Bale’s Dicky. It’s because of this that the movie really feels more like a film about Bale than it does about Wahlberg. That’s not a bad thing, but it is interesting.
Ultimately, The Fighter is extraordinary acting wrapped in a good movie. If you’re an aspiring actor, this is a film to watch. If you’re interested in dramas about families learning to live with one another, watch this movie. On either of these fronts, The Fighter is a knockout.