D: David O. Russell. DP: Hoyte Van Hoytema. W: Scott Silver & Paul Tamasy. Starring: Mark Walberg/Christian Bale/Melissa Leo/Amy Adams/Jack McGee/Melissa McMeekin/Bianca Hunter/Erica McDermott/Jill Quigg/Dendrie Taylor/Kate O’Brien/Jenna Lamia/Frank Renzulli/Paul Campbell.
The biopic is a cruel genre. It can be unforgiving if there is a historical or public figure for a performance or story to be directly compared to. On top of that there can be novels, biographies, press and myths to contend with when even developing a story based on someone’s life. Then there are genre conventions to be contend with, to overcome, but oftentimes they are allowed to prevail. It is a hard fight, but at least The Fighter never gives up.
Ultimately, more about personal relationships than a triumphant storyline, The Fighter immediately finds Mark Walberg’s Mickey Ward already down on his luck in the boxing ring. Struggling to make money, deal with his chaotic family, and hometown expectations, Walberg easily steps into the sunken hero role he’s been waiting to play. After multiple financial and production setbacks, Walberg ended up training for years for this boxing role and it not only shows in his physique, but in his own quiet determination. Helping his film is the community of Lowell, Massachusetts. Acting as a character in itself the town’s local people, bars, and streets seem to react to his success and failures. Thus allowing Walberg’s Mickey to be slightly more complex than previous boxing heroes of late.
However, the most brilliant of hometown elements is Walberg’s team of mother and brother. Melissa Leo looks almost unrecognizable as Walberg’s mother, Alice, whose makeup and wardrobe is as confused as she must be about how many kids and baby daddies she has. Her bouffant hair and thick accent only help for her to hit spot on the zealous crazy love she has for her sons and their success in boxing. Much appreciation should be shown for the film’s ability in general to truly be consistent with its sense of place and popular culture. Even the shooting of the fight sequences feels realistic and gritty (Walberg has bragged that he hired the guys who actually shoot fights to recreate Ward’s fights from videotape, with people actually taking hits! Well, regardless, it paid off!) The HBO documentary following Walberg’s brother also adds to the richness of character tension rather than plot development, which is where The Fighter truly shines.
Probably one of the most talked about performances of this award season is Christian Bales contribution as Dickey, the older brother to Walberg’s Mickey. In true method actor fashion, Bale’s slimmed down and gaunt figure acts as the physical manifestation of his commitment to his character. Crazed, drugged out, and with flaring intensity Bale’s Dickey is the right amount of counter balance for Walberg and roots the rest of the film in character rather than plot. However, as brilliant as his performance may be ultimately it truly reveals the flaws and difficulties in the genre. Most audiences will remember the film because of the performance rather than the film as a whole. So The Fighter is only added to this canon of recent films such as La Vie En Rose, Milk, and Walk the Line.
That being said the film is still a success. Amy Adams plays well with the boys as Walberg’s new girlfriend, while his slew of sisters are just as memorable. And lastly, the film cannot be denied to have tons of heart. Whether a success or failure by the end, the story of the Wards feels rich and intuitive. Something hopefully these men and Lowell can be proud of, and isn’t that why people retell other people’s stories? Let’s hope so.