The Fighter stars Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg as boxing half-brothers
Comparisons with The Wrestler are inevitable and not unfair
All the best boxing movies are as much about what goes on outside the ring as what happens inside the ropes. Despite this biopic, scripted by Scott Silver (8 Mile) and five other writers, being based on the lives of not one but two pugilists, half-brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, director David O Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) is more interested in the latter than the former. And that’s what makes the film a winner – and a contender for no less than seven Oscars at the forthcoming Academy Awards.
For those unfamiliar with Ward and Eklund, the half-brothers fought their way up from a white trash neighbourhood in Lowell, Massachusetts during the 1980s. The elder of the two, Dicky (Christian Bale), was the first to achieve notoriety when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. His career, however, foundered – he became addicted to crack and eventually ended up serving time in prison. Micky (Mark Wahlberg), by contrast, was a slow starter whose own boxing career eventually took off and saw him become the world welterweight champion and the most televised boxer in sports history.
Neatly contrasting Micky’s ascent with Dicky’s descent, the film locates the source of their trials and tribulations firmly within the family – Dicky is idolised by their overbearing mother and manager Alice (Melissa Leo) while Micky is badly managed by her and poorly-trained by his crack-head brother. The chaotic scenes of domestic dysfunction, which also involve half a dozen harpy-like sisters and an eternally exasperated father, are both hilarious and touching. It’s not hard to see the influence of O Russell’s earlier domestic black comedies, Spanking the Monkey and Flirting With Disaster, and the blistering rows prove to be as bruising as anything we see in the ring. They also showcase some seriously good performances, from the women in the story, from Leo, and, playing Micky’s smart-mouthed girlfriend, Amy Adams, and equally from Wahlberg and Bale, who work well together giving, respectively, pleasingly low-key and larger-than-life turns.
Comparisons with another underdog sports movie, The Wrestler, are inevitable and not unfair. Probably not coincidentally, that film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, is one of the producers of The Fighter.
General release from Fri 4 Feb.