In Britain we love the underdog, from our try-hard sports stars to gimmicky reality TV contestants, we are forever cheering for that ‘against-all-odds’ victory. Unlike a rags-to-riches tale, like Silvester Stallone’s Rocky, with The Fighter, director David O. Russell is dealing with a true story, making the challenge of producing a believable cinematic experience even greater.
Luckily Russell has great talent as his disposal in the form of Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale as boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Ekland.
Set in the all-American city of Lowell, Massachusettes, we see the brothers as they are warmly greeted out on the city streets, emphasising the significance of family, a feeling which runs through the whole film.
The sight of Bale as Dicky is a shock compared to the chiselled physique of the caped crusader, since Dicky is little more than a skeleton, which it is soon revealed is down to his issues with drugs.
Far from stealing the show, Bale gives a nervous energy to a man who his brother both loves and hates as he fails to show up to help Micky train. The tension between Micky and Dicky convinces, bubbling under the surface as the plot develops before proving to be the lynch pin for the success of Micky’s boxing.
Those with an aversion to violence should not worry about excessive injuries on screen; Russell keeps the fights themselves to the background, focusing on the characters until the film’s climax.
The supporting cast adds to the atmosphere, particularly with the casting of trainer and family friend Mickey O’Keefe playing himself, and this coupled with the appearance of the real Micky and Dicky in the film’s closing credits give a glimpse of the impressive characterisation in Wahlberg and Bale’s performance.
Bale delivers a particularly believable rendition of his character, earning him nominations for Best Supporting Actor at both the Academy Awards and BAFTAs. Amy Adams, who plays Micky’s love interest Charlene Fleming, is also nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category.
The Fighter is a film which does more than tick boxes for awards season though. Character drives the story along as Russell slowly lets us into Micky’s mind as he develops both as a fighter and independently as a person.
The film is more than just ‘a boxing film’ with the fights themselves on the sidelines to Micky’s challenge of balancing what is best for him and what is best for his family. Wahlberg’s often fixed expression suits the character down to the ground here, and the damage to his pride after a defeat in the ring is more visible than the cuts and bruises on his face.
Earning that one chance at the big time is one which we can all aspire to and you’re guaranteed to feel uplifted by the time the credits roll.
James Michael Parry