“The Fighter,” a new film starring Mark Wahlberg about a real life welterweight named Micky Ward, plays like a mix of “Raging Bull” and “Rocky.” It borrows the tough street grit from the Scorsese classic and mixes in the heart of Stallone’s crowd-pleaser to create a movie that isn’t quite as satisfying as either of its inspirations, but should get some notice at Academy Awards time.
Directed by David O. Russell, “The Fighter,” is based on the true story of boxer, “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg), and his older half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). Dickie is a local legend in their rough neighborhood of Lowell, Massachusetts, having once knocked Sugar Ray Leonard to his knees during a high profile boxing match. But now his best days are behind him. Now he’s a crack head, a charming one, but a crack head nonetheless, who allows his addiction to get in the way of Micky’s training. To advance his career Micky must make some tough decisions; more brutal than anything he’s ever had to do in the ring. He must choose between his family and his career.
Wahlberg is at the heart of “The Fighter” and hands in a convincing performance, but it is Bale, in the showier role of the tormented and addicted Dickie who steals the movie. Pulling another of his amazing physical transformations—it can’t healthy to lose this much weight, but it is effective in the movie—he’s almost unrecognizable as the skeletal ex-boxer. It’s the first time in some while we’ve seen Bale really get under the skin of a character in a drama—forgive me, but the “Batman” and “Terminator” movies are more about the effects than nuance—that it is a treat to be reminded of how good and risk-taking an actor he really is.
The fight scenes in “The Fighter” are good, and the characters are compelling—Melissa Leo as the controlling mom is great and where did they find the seven harridans who play the sisters?—but the form is a bit too traditional to be really grabby. The underdog sports movie has been done to death and despite adding in a twist or two, like a crack head brother with a god complex, the movie pulls too many punches to be truly memorable.