Monday, January 03, 2011

Movie review: The Fighter

Last day of my winter vacation, I went to see David O. Russell's new flick, The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams.  I'm relatively unfamiliar with Russell's work.  I remember seeing his 1996 flick, Flirting with Disaster, which I thought was hilarious and something of a sleeper as far as critical acclaim.  But The Fighter is nothing at all like that earlier flick.

The Fighter is a gritty, streetwise tale of conflicted loyalty, disillusionment, defeat, and triumph.  It is the story of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Wahlberg), from the mean streets of Lowell, Massachusetts who, through grim determination and relentlessness earns a shot at the WBU welterweight championship.  Micky lives in the shadow of his older brother, Dicky Eklund (Bale), who is known as "the Pride of Lowell," because of his own boxing career.  Dicky's claim to fame is that he fought and knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a losing effort some years before.  Dicky is the subject of an HBO documentary which he imagines to be the story of his improbable boxing comeback, but is in fact a portrait of the ravages of crack addiction.  (Dicky, you see, has a drug problem.)  Micky, with his new-found love Charlene (Adams), must find a way to protect himself from the destructive habits of his brother, the conniving of his family, and his own self-doubts.

I came away from this flick with new-found respect for Christian Bale.  His portrayal of half-mad but irresistibly charming Dicky Eklund is nothing short of brilliant (and quite a departure from his bland interpretation of Melvin Purvis in Public Enemies).  Mark Wahlberg does a great job of emoting Micky Ward's inner conflict as he struggles in the shadow of his larger-than-life brother.  And Amy Adams is convincing as street-tough Charlene, the college drop-out bartender who still hopes for a better life.

Apart from the good acting and the inspiring story, I think The Fighter succeeds because Russell does nothing to glamorize or smooth out the rough edges of the world he portrays.  The dialog is real and gritty.  The characters seem true to life.  These are people you would actually expect to meet in a blue collar down-on-its-luck town.

So, I'll definitely be looking forward to Russell's next effort.  I might even have to have a look at some of his previous work.  This guy's got talent.

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