Director: David O. Russell | Runtime: 1h 56mins | Biography, Drama
From The Vault: The Fighter (2010) is written by Connor Cudmore.
Based on the true story of professional boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) as he attempts to step out of the shadow of his troubled by successful older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale).
It’s difficult to find autobiographical stories in cinema that don’t feel melodramatic for the sake of ramping a story’s tension, many feel like they are appealing to the lowest common denominator with their audience’s expectations. David O. Russel’s The Fighter is a film that bats this recurring issue away as if it were nothing more than a fly buzzing around the head of the genre. Tackling heavy themes of drug addiction and faltering dreams, Russel’s 2010 venture is hoisted high upon the shoulders of monumental performances and bar-setting storytelling.
A mixture of sporting glory-hunting and family drama, The Fighter follows the tenuous relationship between half-brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund. Micky, played by Mark Wahlberg in easily one of his greatest performances, is a young boxer who strives to achieve acclaim on the world stage and break free from his oppressive family in Massachusetts. He finds himself held back by Dicky (the untouchable Christian Bale), a one-time boxing legend who has fallen to drug addiction and self-worship.
Bale has a habit of stealing the limelight in every film he’s in, methodically approaching every performance as if it were the one he wants to be remembered for. Well, he doesn’t break rank in The Fighter – his outstanding portrayal of Dicky breaks your heart as much as it makes you want to tear him apart. However, Bale’s performance would be nowhere near as memorable were it not for his on-screen chemistry with Wahlberg. Their interactions feel exhausting and impassioned, the agony of Micky’s struggle seeping through a surprisingly raw performance from Wahlberg, as Micky swings (both literally and figuratively) between his desire to overcome the expectations he sets for himself and the understated ones his family hold for him. It’s a difficult watch, but Russel pulls no punches in his depiction of struggle. It’s never sugar-coated and it’s ugly as hell, and it’s in this portrayal of strife that Russel creates a conflicting dynamic between Dicky’s refusal to let go of the past and Micky’s haunting by a future he’s afraid will pass him by.
At times a sad journey, and at others a fundamentally goosebump-heavy story of emotion and determination, Russel handles a weighty cast with gusto.
Cinematically, Micky and Dicky’s story is set to the backdrop of American depravity. It’s difficult not to consider the poverty-stricken neighbourhoods of Lowell, Massachusetts a character in its own right. Drug addicts litter the film’s supporting cast, and the Eklund-Ward family display nothing but desperation as the family matriarch, Melissa Leo’s Alice Eklund, refuses to get down off her high horse despite their dire circumstances. An almost villainous performance from Leo, The Fighter overcomes the initial task of pulling Micky up by his bootstraps while offering an unflinching glimpse into the life of America’s down-and-dirty.
You could argue that The Fighter is predictable, but that would be missing the point of Russel’s venture. At its core, it’s a sensitive study of two men grappling with their potential, and yes, it’s a story that has only a couple of possible outcomes; when the credits finally roll we’re hardly surprised by its conclusion, but more valuable is Russel’s uncompromising glance into agony on an individual, economic, and cultural level. At times a sad journey, and at others a fundamentally goosebump-heavy story of emotion and determination. Russel handles a weighty cast with gusto, and makes light work of genre that struggles to clamber out of the histrionic sea and into the safety vessel of well-written drama.
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