Critic's Pick: The Fighter 

The Fighter

Dir. David O. Russell; writ. Scott Silver (screenplay), Paul Tamasy (screenplay, story), Eric Johnson (screenplay, story), Keith Dorrington (story); feat. Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, Jack McGee (R)

Few — if any — arenas persistently provide a tidier, more starkly simplified symbolic examination of idealized human achievement and failure (“winning” and “losing”), and the devastation/redemption/glory that accompanies the last-second exchange of one for the other, than sports. And few sports have done it as well or memorably, at least in the movies, as has boxing.

The Fighter tells the story of “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg), a real-life Lowell, Massachusetts, junior welterweight who rose to prominence in the 1990s. The film depicts and dramatizes that rise, and the complications that surrounded it — most notably, Ward’s relationships with his half-brother Dicky (Bale), a wildly charismatic but just-as-wildly-troubled local legend who taught him everything about the sport, but whose drug addiction and unpredictability threaten disaster; his mother Alice (Leo), who professes to have her sons’ best interest at heart, but turns a blind eye to Dicky’s troubles and demands loyalty, fiercely and above all; and Charlene (Adams), who loves Micky, but refuses to be “dragged down” by his family.

Fincher has Pitt; Scott has Crowe; Pollack had Redford; Sheridan has/had Day-Lewis; Scorsese had De Niro, now DiCaprio. Director David O. Russell seems to have hitched his wagon to Wahlberg. Inasmuch as I’m concerned, it appears to be for the better: the partnership has resulted in what may be my three favorite Wahlberg-centric films (Three Kings, Huckabees and, now, The Fighter). The Boston-bred actor is perfect for Ward, and delivers perhaps his most nuanced dramatic work to date. Bale, meanwhile, is on fire as Dicky. His energy is dazzling and infectious, his addled-but-acute pain achingly tangible. These are two actors, admittedly, with whom I haven’t always managed to connect in the past, which I say to underline this point: It’s hard for me to imagine anyone, in these roles, turning in better performances. Both are well-deserving of Oscar nominations, as is the film — which, of those I saw in 2010 (though I haven’t caught as many as in years past), might be the best.


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