Cinema: The Fighter
Director: David O Russell.
Writer: Scott Silver, Paul tamsay, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo.Â Â
The line-up changed a fair bit in pre-production on this boxing drama with the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in line at one time or another to play one half of Boston step-brother boxing duo Micky Ward and Dicky Edlund. The one calling the shots even changed hands too with Darren Aronofsky developing the project for some time before handing over the reigns to David O Russell, who makes his return to directing duties for the first time since the misfiring and uneven I Heart Huckabees. With all this seat-swapping behind the scenes you’d be forgiven for expecting the finished film to be equally as unbalanced and unpredictable, yet it is anything but.Â
The Fighter tells the real life story of Ward and Edlund, two boxers from Lowell, Massachusetts. Following sporting biopic tradition, it’s a tale laced with familial drama, highs and lows (chemically induced ones in the case of crack-addict and latterly incarcerated Dicky), and triumph in the face of adversity. Older brother Dicky lives off the small town fame afforded him by his heyday flooring of boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard (a claim that’s disputed with those attesting that Sugar Ray merely lost his balance), and is his mother’s darling. The son that can do no wrong, even when slinking off for days on end and wasting away in a drug den when he should be in the gym training his little brother.Â
Micky, a no less talented boxer, is number two, and he knows it. Forced to choose between loyalty to his family â€“ brother Dicky, mother and manager Alice Ward and a gaggle of foul-mouthed and hilariously opinionated sisters â€“ and to himself and his career, after receiving a pummelling when he’sÂ lined up in the ring with a man twice his size, Micky decides to prioritise the latter, and is given the strength to do so by Amy Adams’ plucky bartender, much to his sisters’ and mother’s distress. But it’s only with Dicky in his corner that he’ll he ever be ready to face to big time.Â
It’s well worn tale, and Silver, Tamasy and Johnson’s script offers up precious few insights into the mind of a boxer and ever fewer narrative surprises. There is a climactic fight and you know how it’s going to turn out, whether you’re familiar with the real life brothers’ history or not. It does come with a healthy dose of humour though, the screenwriting team injecting sarcasm and wit into the family feuds, particularly those involving the harem of know-it-all sisters that are never lost for a word. David O Russell shows that his return from his feature film sabbatical has been long overdue. With an assured but never invasive touch, he drops the viewer right into the middle of events, whether it be a bar room brawl, encounters with the cops, or the numerous ring-set sequences, and keeps things moving confidently with a brisk pace that never settles or sags.Â
It is though, predominantly an actors film, the performances giving it is energy and heart. Wahlberg is solid as the put-upon brother, and Amy Adams excels against type as a bartender with the heart of gold that shows Micky the way forward, but it is Bale who steals the scenes with the showiest role of Dicky. A charismatic individual, for sure, his portrayal goes beyond mimicry, as he captures the swagger and cheek that made Dicky such a local hero, but also the frustration and self-loathing inherent in a man who could have had it all but threw it all away.Â
The film though, it has to be said, hasÂ not got anywhere near enough dirt under its nails. For a film about boxing, titled The Fighter, there is not enough knuckle-bruising – physically or emotionally! The boxing scenes themselves are well orchestrated, Russell presenting much of it in the same grainy, TV tape format as the original recordings of the real-life fights. But they never quite pack enough of a lasting punch. And Dicky’s descent into addiction, prison, and a painful cell-bound withdrawal doesn’t hit the pits of despair needed for the third act heights to really grab the spirit and soar.Â
But, as a a tale of loyalty and dedication, the plucky underdog who succeeds against the odds, it succeeds and who could fail to be moved by that? Having already snagged a handful of awards as well as picking up no fewer than six Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director for Russell and Acting nominations for Bale, Wahlberg, Leo and Adams, the Academy voters have certainly been moved, that’s for sure.Â
By Alasdair Morton.Â
The Fighter is out now courtesy of Paramount and Momentum Pictures.