By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
Dick “Dicky” Eklund (Christian Bale) has suffered a considerable fall from grace. In his prime he was a formidable boxer and a legend in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Alas, those days were long ago. Now he’s a crackhead. Meanwhile, his sparring partner and half brother “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Whalberg) is coming into his own as a professional fighter. As family interference and Dicky’s drug habit begin to adversely affect his blossoming sports career, Micky is forced to make some tough decisions. Dick stands at a crossroads, as his crack habit threatens to destroy both himself and his brother’s career.
The Fighter is based on the true story of half brothers Dick “Dicky” Eklund and “Irish” Micky Ward Both enjoyed careers as professional welterweight boxers. Director David O Russell dramatizes their struggle in an earnest fashion that emphasizes the working class New England backgrounds from which they came. The film is true to the conventions of the boxing film, though it pushes pugilism and fight choreography to the background in favor of human drama and character.
The cinematography conveys the frustrated tension that exists within the Eklund family. It is neither overtly picturesque nor exceptionally gritty. It suggests a workmanlike sensibility without looking as though it was composed by a mere hack. This properly conveys the emotions on display, as the film itself seems more interested in the characters and their story then in its own appearance. As a result, the viewer is left undistracted by production values or self indulgent technical flourishes.
The fight choreography stresses authenticity. Perhaps this could not be helped as the fights had to resemble their real life counterparts, which were broadcast on television and viewed by millions. Fight scenes in boxing films are often rendered in the larger than life terms, with sweeping haymakers taking the place of jabs and strategy. David O’ Russell heightens the emotions but keeps everything firmly grounded in the real and the plausible.
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson have crafted a script that dramatizes familial strife and struggle without devolving into Springer-like melodrama. The script only fails on one particular area: lead character Micky Ward often feels bland. All of the supporting characters are colorful in one way or the other, and as such seem to have a more immediate impact on the proceedings. Ward is an easy character to like and sympathize with, but he sometimes feels skeletal compared to everyone else.
At the heart of the film lies an unexpectedly effective performance by Christian Bale. Bale is often taken with playing fiercely intense protagonists, to the point were he was beginning to seem like a one trick pony. As “Dicky” Eklund he not only allows himself to crack a smile or two, but displays an ample amount of vulnerability and warmth. Though his mere presence in often detrimental to life and career of his brother, he clearly loves him. Mark Wahlberg’s turn as “Irish” Micky Ward isn’t nearly as much of a revelation, but is still intense enough to where he is not completely upstaged by Bale.
The Fighter keeps the tradition of the boxing film alive in a most admirable way. It doesn’t lean on the formula established by Rocky so many years ago. Instead it offers something a bit more subtle but no less effective. It is not about blows being thrown in the ring, but about a man who learns to be an asset to his sibling rather than a self centered pariah. That little touch makes The Fighter worth seeing, and distinguishes it from other films of its kind.
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