I could hardly blame him. The broad strokes of the story — a down-on-his-luck, mush-mouthed boxer struggles through family strife and hard knocks on his way to glory — fit right into the tired sports-movie template. But thankfully, The Fighter has much more firepower in its arsenal than just the same old jabs.
Long a passion project of star Mark Wahlberg, the film tells the real-life story of “Irish” Micky Ward, a determined brawler from hardscrabble Lowell, Mass., saddled with a — to put it lightly — domineering family. His career in the ring is floundering, and he’s in danger of forever living in the shadow of his older half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Christian Bale), whose own pugilistic success earned him the nickname “The Pride of Lowell.”
But Dicky — now a drug addict clinging to past glory and delusions of a comeback — is only part of the problem. His mother (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Melissa Leo), along with his gaggle of sisters (one of whom is played by Kate O’Brien, sister of Conan), are intent on micromanaging Micky, always playing the “who’s going to take care of you?” card whenever he mentions striking out on his own.
The boxing scenes are actually few and far between, and relatively pedestrian when compared with the cinematic spectacle of, say, Raging Bull or Rocky. The real reason to watch is the lived-in performances by Bale and Leo, who are able to bring heart and realism to what could have been horribly hammy roles. Oscar nominee Amy Adams is also moving as Charlene, another beautiful loser who takes up with Micky and gives him the strength to finally stand up to his family. Like Micky, Wahlberg is the calm center of it all, providing a likable, sympathetic character who ultimately proves worthy of the chaotic battle for his soul.
The Best Picture Oscar-nominated film “The Fighter″ is now showing on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2011 Paramount Pictures. Credit: Jojo Whilden