The sports movie and its subgenre, the boxing movie, have become almost as much of a Hollywood staple as the Hollywood Western. The latest offering is David O. Russell’s The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale as brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, bruisers who hail from the streets of Lowell, MA and who dream of becoming big-time boxing stars. One of the brothers, Dicky, has seen his time come and go and is now a washed-up addict who seems to be in a perpetual downward spiral. The other, Micky, is still awaiting his moment of glory, but when it seems within his grasp, he is forced to choose between loyalty to his family and pursuit of his dreams.
Along for the ride are Melissa Leo as the family matriarch, Alice, and Amy Adams, who plays Micky’s tough girlfriend, Charlene. Leo proves that she is a formidable talent, deserving of her Best Supporting Actress nomination for a performance that requires her to be tough yet tender, depending on which son she is interacting with. Adams, whom I’ve never really warmed up to, is a revelation in this role. Stronger than she seems, she gives Micky the support he has never really found anywhere else.
Also supporting the main story are the other siblings of the Eklund/Ward family. The sisters of Micky and Dicky are an entertaining sideshow act. One of my favourite scenes of the movie is the confrontation between the sisters and Charlene; well acted by all involved.
As for the main performances, in recent awards acceptance speeches, Bale has made note that his showy (sometimes over-the-top) performance as Dicky would not have been possible without the quiet depth of Wahlberg’s. Truer words could not have been spoken. Though I don’t feel that Mark Wahlberg gave one of the five best lead actor performances of the past year, there is no doubt in my mind that he is more talented than he is often given credit for. He is certainly more than the guy who danced around in his underwear to “Good Vibrations” with the Funky Bunch and made appearances in his Calvin Klein boxers-briefs on billboards above Broadway.
Just as Wahlberg is more than he seemed, The Fighter may present itself as a sports/boxing genre movie, but it is so much more than this. It is a film about the choices that life presents to us, as well as the choices that are taken away. It’s a movie about getting up after you’ve hit the mat and carrying on. There’s no genre for that. It’s life.