The Fighter (2010)
Films about boxing have always been Hollywood and Oscar favourites, and not without reason. When they are done right, the nature of the sport and the fighters' often tumultuous social background provides perfect basis for an aptly sentimental dramaturgy. Rocky, The Champ, Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby and Cinderella Man (among others) all share these traits, and David O. Russell's The Fighter, about the boxing half-brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, is no exception. Here is a reticent, simple-minded protagonist, a rise from the slum and into stardom, and - of course - the customary training montage.
The execution and plot is just as effective in The Fighter as it was in films such as Rocky or Cinderella Man, because the story, the characters, and the relation between them are all interestingly written and portrayed. In The Fighter, Micky Ward, the title character, must liberate himself from his controlling mother and underachieving brother in order to find success, without sacrificing his profound love for his family. It's a warm and nuanced portrait of values and belonging, even if the characters in question rarely share this warmth or nuanced view.
What The Fighter has in addition to all the familiar qualities, is an audacious, incomparable performance by Christian Bale. Yet again Bale goes to great lengths physically in order to indulge himself in the part, among other things sporting a bald spot and losing considerable weight in order to look as a crack addict. But what's just as impressive is his complete delve into the character of Dicky Eklund, and the almost unrecognizable mannerisms and speech he creates. At last, Bale got his Oscar nomination, and I would be surprised if he didn't win. The other performers also do very well, including Wahlberg's sympathetic leading role, Amy Adams fiery performance as his girlfriend, and Melissa Leo as the matriarch - a role reminiscent of fellow Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver's part in Animal Kingdom.
The Fighter uses the 'based on a true story' label to full effect, picking and choosing those events from Micky Wards career which presumably will make the best film. It plays the sentimental note rather shamelessly in this and other manners, even concluding with some real-life footage of the brothers during the end credits. This is not criticism, however, because as long as it's done for the sake of good, classic storytelling, I'm all for it. And that is what The Fighter is all about.