27 December 2010 | jdesando
"O the joy of the strong-brawn'd fighter, towering in the arena in perfect condition, conscious of power, thirsting to meet his opponent." Walt Whitman
Mark Wahlberg has achieved a career high with The Fighter, not so much for his acting, which is eclipsed by a supportive cast that would be hard to beat in the Oscar race, but because he fought for years to bring the story of Lowell, Mass. to the screen. He caught perfectly the blue-collar town's karma and their devotion to the fighting brothers, "Irish" Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale).
Director David O. Russell has assembled this cast around the idea that a town in the shadow of Boston can become world famous as its sons become winners in the ring. But then, Stallone did more for Philadelphia as Rocky, so what's the big deal? Like Ben Affleck's excellent thriller this year about Boston in The Town, Fighter captures place and struggle in equal dramatic measure as filmmakers take a close look at the working class's struggles over the last 30 years. While Million Dollar Baby (2004) focused on trainer and fighter and Cinderella Man (2005) gave a microscopic view of a troubled fighter and his small family, The Fighter does all of that with a vigor as exhausting as a bout itself.
The Fighter is not just about boxing because as in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), it's all about people who find in the sport a way to transcend their social prison. In The Fighter, it is more even about family, which weighs heavily on Micky's success or failure. And outside family as well, for girlfriend, bartender Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), is a formidable force in liberating Micky from the suffocating family (his five harpy sisters and domineering manager mother, Melissa Leo, fearsome in her cigarette smoke and driving vision for her sons). Unlike other boxing films, Fighter is patient with Micky's long climb to success, almost painfully long but rewarding in the reality of its prolonged struggle.
But it's also the acting that distinguishes it: Christian Bale as Dicky transforms himself again by losing weight and morphing into a manic brother who loves Micky despite Dicky's negative life of drugs and mania; Amy Adams is believable as the gritty but beautiful girl friend; and Melissa Leo plays mom like a lady Macbeth in tight Dockers.
Although there will be heavier films competing for 2010's Oscar, I can't think of another whose cast so eloquently has caught the poverty and riches of a town caught in boxing fever.