Special to The History Place
I’m writing this review on the night before the Academy Awards. And I want to say that, if Christian Bale does not receive the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, then God does not go to the movies.
Not only is this Bale’s best performance ever, it is the best performance in a “fight” film of all time. That is saying a lot. De Niro was extraordinary as 1980’s Best Actor in Raging Bull. But as with sports records, best performances are made to be surpassed. Bale is the drug-addicted, failed fighter to perfection. And that’s only in a supporting role.
Mark Wahlberg in the title role of Bale’s brother, boxer Micky Ward, logs in another rock-solid performance, not unlike his NFL player, Vince Papale, in 2005’s Invincible. Wahlberg is such a predictably good performer in the blue-collar roles he does best – see also A Perfect Storm and The Departed – that he seems to get overlooked and overshadowed when the Oscars are handed out. That’s just too bad.
The third great performance, also Oscar nominated, is Melissa Leo as Micky’s mom. Just when you start to really hate Alice Ward, who has mismanaged Micky’s boxing career to a farethewell, she breaks your heart with her crude, Lowell-Mass, working class expressions of affection for her two boys. In short, this is a terrific fight film, replete with great performances. (Let me add that Amy Adams, as Wahlberg’s “gal” is also outstanding – just outclassed by Bale, Leo and Wahlberg.)
If a good yarn, told by outstanding actors, isn’t enough to get you out to the movies, then the fact that this is a page from boxing history might do the trick. “Irish” Micky Ward – like Jim Braddock, the so-called “Cinderella Man” of Depression-era boxing, portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 2005 film of that name – was an unlikely world champion. Micky's achievement of the WBU Intercontinental Light Welterweight Title in 2000 is a rags-to-riches story second to none.
His half-brother Dicky Eklund’s triumph is no less impressive. A former pugilist, whose claim to fame was going the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard, Eklund was addicted to crack cocaine. Busted, Christian Bale’s Eklund spends half the film in the “big house,” where he is embarrassed when the cons get to watch an HBO special depicting the horrors of crack addiction. The documentary was shot in Lowell and focused on Dickey. Eklund emerges clean and stays that way for the rest of the movie.
Like Mama Alice, Brother Dicky is someone the viewer keeps hoping Micky will dump. He never does. In the end, perhaps more rewarding than his title bout is the family loyalty that survives some of the nastiest domestic squabbles ever depicted on the silver screen. (If you have a problem with the F-word, this might not be your cup of tea.)
While I love the half-dozen Rocky movies, they are a sort of patriotic fantasy. Despite all the blood and gore, Rocky Balboa remains a mythic figure – the boxer as everyman as Horatio Alger.
By stark contrast, The Fighter is a nitty-gritty kidney punch of a movie about the blood, sweat and tears of blue collar family life and the blood sport of boxing albeit with a damned happy and satisfying ending.
Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.
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Jim Castagnera, a Philadelphia lawyer and freelance journalist, has published 18 books, including Al Qaeda Goes to College: Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education (Praeger 2009) and Handbook for Student Law (Peter Lang 2010).