Title: The Fighter
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGeew
The sports biography has maintained its status of being one of the most popular genres in the American film industry today by emphasizing the main character preparing for an important game. However, the new Relativity Media drama ‘The Fighter’ hoped to separate itself from the norm by also focusing on the characters learning how to cope with each other. Director David O. Russell not only succeeded in his promise to set his biography about boxer Mickey Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) apart from other sports memoirs by showcasing the fighter’s rise to fame, but by chronicling his struggles with his family as well.
‘The Fighter’ chronicles Mickey’s boxing career in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts in 1993. While his half-brother, welterweight boxer Dickey Eklund (portrayed by Christian Bale), is still living off his 1978 win against Sugar Ray Leonard and has succumbed to a crack addition, he’s determined to help Mickey get his big break in the ring. But Mickey is firm in his decision to separate himself from Dickey after he’s sent to prison for several crimes, including masked armed robbery. Mickey also wants to break free from their dominating mother Alice (played by Melissa Leo), who serves as their manager. Mickey finds the strength to branch out on his own in the boxing world after he begins dating Charlene (portrayed by Amy Adams) and starts training with Lowell’s police sergeant Mickey O’Keefe.
Wahlberg helped set ‘The Fighter’ apart from other sports biographies by truly committing to the role. Not only did he have Micky and Dickey move in with him during the film’s pre-production to understand their lives better, he also insisted on performing all of his own stunts. He began a strict bodybuilding regimen four years before the movie began shooting, and hired former professional boxer Freddie Roach to train him.
While Wahlberg didn’t exert the same toughness he applied to some of his previous parts, such as his Academy Award-nominated role of Sgt. Sean Dignam in ‘The Departed,’ his natural charm made up for it. During his fight scenes, particularly during the WBU Light Welterweight title championship in England against the undefeated Shea Neary, Wahlberg used his training and charisma to keep everyone interested. Even people unfamiliar with boxing will be left rooting for Micky.
While Russell made the right decision in hiring Wahlberg to portray Micky, as he made the character relatable, the director made the best decision when he secured Bale for the role of Dickey. While Brad Pitt and Matt Damon were reportedly attached to the role before Bale was cast, they were both forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Though he’s most known for his role as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the franchise, Bale proved that he’s as versatile as both Pitt and Damon with his portrayal of Dickey.
Bale was perfectly cast as Dickey as he understood Dickey’s desire to train his brother. Despite his flaws, Bale showed that Dickey truly felt that he was helping Micky in the ring. The actor proved his dedication to the role by staying in character throughout filming, which not only impressed Russell and Eklund, but will most likely surprise viewers as well.
While ‘The Fighter’ is meant to showcase Micky’s rise as a boxer, and the conflict and struggles that go along with training, Russell made the right decision in also chronicling the characters’ fights with each other. All of the actors, particularly Bale and Wahlberg, not only connected with their characters, but also proved that biographies about athletes don’t have to focus on just their sports.
Written by: Karen Benardello