The Fighter Review: Super Punch Out

Fighter300THE FIGHTER (15): On General Release Wednesday 2nd February

To some extent, if you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve seen them all. They’re inevitably defined by one character’s rise from obscurity and eventual triumph over adversity by demonstrating superhuman determination and heart. The Fighter is for a large part born in the same mould and tells the story of working class middleweight boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) as he struggles to make the big time in the rough neighbourhood of Lowell, Massachusetts.

His journey is made all the tougher because his trainer and brother Dickie (Christian Bale), despite teaching him everything knows, is now a crack addict and barely manages to turn up to training at all, much less on time. He’s equally encumbered by his mother and manager Alice (Melissa Leo). She idolises Dickie and his past sporting glory – Dickie used to be “The Pride Of Lowell” – he once fought and knocked down boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard but she has little interest in getting Micky fights he can win. After a string of disastrous match ups and losses, Micky is despondent.

Things seem to be looking up when he meets tough-talking waitress Charlene (Amy Adams). But when the reality starts to dawn that he’d be better off without his brother and mother looking after his career, the family turn on them like a pack of angry wolves – to them nothing is more important than blood.

The Fighter may be a familiar story but it’s significantly lifted by strong performances from all its leads. Mark Wahlberg is quietly dignified as Micky, seemingly the only oasis of calm in a raging storm of strong personalities. Amy Adams excels as Charlene, a strong-willed barmaid with a good left hook of her own, not afraid to stand up for her man.

Melissa Leo has quietly been forging a career as a woman who went to not just the School but the University and the PhD Graduate Programme of Hard Knocks. She was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for her role of a single mother on the breadline in Frozen River in 2009 and gave a stellar performance in last year’s Winter’s Bone. Here she plays a similar character, a hatchet-faced woman with a cigarette permanently wedged in the corner of her mouth. As Micky’s mother she’s indomitable – for her control is everything – she’d rather lead her son to failure, than see him strike out on his own and succeed.

Special mention has to go to Christian Bale whose relentless dedication to his roles is almost legendary. He’s no stranger to yo-yoing weight and appearance – from his frighteningly emaciated turn in The Machinist to the muscular Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, from starved POW Dieter Dengler in Rescue Dawn to beefy magician in The Prestige. Bale has once again pulled out all the stops and he’s entirely captivating as the sunken-cheeked, frenetic blabber mouth Dickie Eklund and will most likely take the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year. His bug-eyed mania might seem a bit overcooked (particularly next to Wahlberg’s understated effort) but he manages to invest Dickie with an infectious likability despite the character’s myriad flaws.

Despite the predictability of its plot, the boxing scenes are still breathlessly exciting (and feature that grainy VHS quality footage that everyone associated with fights televised in the mid-90s) the dialogue is sharp and, ahem, punchy and it features some great supporting characters (it’s almost possible to feel the disapproval radiating off the Ward sisters at times, dodgy haircuts and all). The result is a film, while tackling subject matter that’s been done a dozen times before, is completely enthralling and impossible to dislike.