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The Fighter - Review

The Fighter

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

MARK Wahlberg and Christian Bale deliver a knock-out combination in David O Russell’s boxing drama, The Fighter, which is rightly now among the leading Oscar contenders.

The film tells the true story of the rise of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Wahlberg), who triumphed against many odds – including a dysfunctional (to say the least) family, self-doubt and a crack-addict brother/trainer (Bale) – to become a welterweight boxing champion in the 1980s.

Admittedly, it follows a tried and tested path of the underdog comes good and bears more than a passing resemblance to the likes of Rocky and Cinderella Man.

But it has an intensity and pace to it that also enables it to go toe to toe with the memory of any movie boxing great, as well as a heavyweight ensemble cast (both male and female) who add some killer blows of their own.

Wahlberg is arguably better than he’s ever been in the main role but then The Fighter is very much a passion project for him and he invests himself whole-heartedly into the mindset and physicality of his character.

Bale, meanwhile, is absolutely superb, delivering another master-class in physical performance and emotional intensity that turns his Dickie into a truly mesmerising presence to be around.

Although difficult to like for most of the time, his own journey from self-obsessed drug addict willing to see his brother enter fights he had no chance of winning to humble trainer and confidante is one of the year’s best performances.

There’s strong support, too, from Amy Adams, as Micky’s no-nonsense bartender girlfriend, and Melissa Leo, as his overbearing mother. Various other family members also standout, thereby ensuring that The Fighter works just as well outside of the ring as it does in it.

And therein lies another of the film’s strengths… given that Russell’s direction paints a vivid picture of life for these Massachusetts residents that rings with gritty authenticity.

His shooting style, and frequently hand-held approach, also lends the film a documentary-style feel that adds to both the social realism and the boxing intensity, meaning that you can feel like both an eaves-dropper and a ring-side dweller at various points throughout the film.

Credit must go to Russell, too, for never over-doing the sentiment, as this rags-to-riches tale could have been ripe for over-sentimentalising and grand-standing Rocky-esque touches that sat uncomfortably alongside some of the more urban sequences.

Hence, The Fighter fully earns the feelings of euphoric cheer that it does belatedly deliver as well as an intimacy and poignancy that enables the various family relationships (especially between Bale and Wahlberg) to touch the heart.

The overall impression, therefore, is that this true life boxing drama is a heavyweight in its genre and another contender for one of the best films of the year.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 115mins
UK Release Date: February 2, 2011