REVIEW: Wahlberg, Not Bale, Is the One to Watch in The Fighter
David O. Russell's The Fighter is a movie with a chip on its shoulder. Whenever it should bounce backward, it lunges forward; it jabs instead of feints, and stomps down hard when it needs to dance. Based on the true story of pro-boxer half-brothers Dickie Eklund and Micky Ward, from the working-class town of Lowell, Mass., The Fighter masquerades as an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser in which an underdog makes good, largely by accepting the love and support of his family. There's just one problem: Micky -- the underdog, played by Mark Wahlberg -- has every reason to think the members of his family are clowns and losers, but in the end, the movie won't let him recognize it. Russell sets up a gritty, grimy tale of rivalry and resentment between brothers, only to insist on steering the thing into one big group hug. It's a case of a director either not following his instincts, or not having many to follow in the first place -- it's hard to say which.
Christian Bale plays Dicky Eklund, a former welterweight who was at one point called "the pride of Lowell" after going the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard, even though he lost the fight. The movie opens in 1993, by which point Dicky is the pride of no one -- beyond, that is, his cartoonishly coarse, doting mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), who looks past her son's glassy eyes and leering grin and sees only a pugilistic little prince. Dicky is an unrepentant crackhead: As the movie opens, he's being followed around by a team of filmmakers; he mutters to anyone who cares to listen (a shockingly large number of people, actually) that the movie guys are documenting his big comeback, though they're really just recording what happens when a local hero gives it all up for the crack pipe.
Dicky grins for the camera -- the documentary guys' and Russell's -- his mouth twisting into a wretched smirk. He slings wisecracks of the "Your mother wears army boots" variety. He has the woozy, not-quite-there demeanor of a boxer who's absorbed too many punches, and the already-scrambled eggs of his brain have been further fried by drugs. Still, he insists on "training" his younger half-brother, Micky, prematurely taking credit for guiding him to some future imagined victory, while Mama Alice gazes upon his gaunt, snickering visage, adoringly.
On the other hand, she has little use for Micky, the "good" son who now has a shot at the fame Dicky squandered. She insists on managing Micky's career, which means only that when Micky loses a fight, it's Micky's fault; when he wins, it's all thanks to Dicky. Meanwhile, Micky -- stalwart, hardworking, disciplined -- tries to be a decent father to his young daughter (he's estranged from the girl's mother) and tentatively hopes to kindle a romance with a local bartender in short shorts, Charlene (Amy Adams), a woman with good common sense and a nice set of buns. Isn't that what every working-class joe and aspiring boxer wants?
The tragedy of The Fighter is that Wahlberg's performance suggests a character who wants more. And yet Russell barely seems to notice how much subtlety Wahlberg brings to his role, or to the movie at large. He's far more fixated on the vaguely incestuous bond between Dicky and Alice, and his camera is crazy about them, too: He indulges all sorts of brassy overacting and "Looka me, I'm a drug addict!" grandstanding, as if he believed this captures the flavor of the "local" people.
Pages: 1 2