Director David O. Russell
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and a horde of Irish Sisters
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamsay, Eric Johnson
Every Oscar season is back loaded with all types of movies like The Fighter. They ought to just call every fall the Reader’s Digest season. Every drama in real life they put out presents an opportunities for actors to overdo it on a limited budget. To say that this is all this movie is would be disingenuous, but only for the efforts of persons like Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg as seeker of talent, benefactor of talent and the talent itself is easy to overlook. His persona is everyman, and rarely anything close to the edge that Christian Bale flies over routinely.
A considerable amount of the talk behind this film involved the efforts of Bale, co-Oscar Supporting winner Melissa Leo and, to
a lesser extent, fellow nominee Adams. Their roles have a lot to do with the success of this film. Extraordinary physical and emotional performances are captured, better or worse, incredibly accurately. At its core, however, is Mark Wahlberg at his most stoic. His Dicky Ward is a strong man, torn between dedication to his overbearing mother, Alice (Leo) and his brilliant, but drug-addled brother Dicky Eklund and the vision of his life that includes his own wants and needs. This part of him lay dormant until he ends up with bartender Charlene (Adams) who helps give voice to his dream. Wahlberg has played this character before, but never with as much of an effect. It’s clear that he loves not only the character he plays but the entire world of Lowell that surrounds him. These are people he’s been around his whole life. His is of the breed.
Adams’ Charlene is a worn woman who has her pride that belies her natural beauty and makes her someone who does not smile, but works adamantly to
ensure Dicky can find the sun for once in his life. She is nurturing, defensive, and a realist. Seeming tough as nails, her tenderness seems real and earned. She will not pick a fight, but she will not back down. It was startling to see the transformation here from the Adam’s we’re used to, to this one. Adams is an actress with the brightest career potential, who will win many awards well into old age. Beauty fades, unless you can act, and Adams knows how to act.
Melissa Leo chomps and chomps up the scenery with her over the top portrayal of Alice Ward. One is tempted to think her portrayal
inaccurate, but most accounts show she’s pretty close to the mark. After her attention grab during the 2011 Oscar speech, she either wasn’t acting for this movie, or hasn’t stopped since. That said, the comic touch between her and her daughters adds a dimension unseen until now in cinematic history. Their combined effect is akin to that of Medusa with all the snakes on her head harping the same tune, but at different bitchy pitches.
Making the biggest splash in the film, of course, is Christian Bale. Pulling off his second DeNiro in less than 8 years, Bale transformed not just in physical features, which are stunning, but all the mannerisms of Dicky Ward’s brother, which is even more stunning. He gives everything to this role, and still looks like he is having a great time. After the strife surrounding Terminator Salvation, it’s obvious that this guy really takes what he does seriously, and to good effect. For those looking to find out how well Bale possessed the soul of his character, just watch the extras. Hard to tell which jumping fool is Bale and which is Eklund.
Russell does a good job here, keeping it low-key, but correct. The fight scenes toward the end of the picture, in particular, are remarkably accurate, blow-by-blow. A lot has been made of Russell’s clashes with several big name actors (and a few small named ones), but here he takes several local non-actors and guides them exceptionally well. According to sources, there were an exceptional amount of takes, and not one reported confrontation. It makes you wonder how hard Tomlin and Clooney must be to work with…
The Fighter, in almost every way, is Mark Wahlberg in top form in every way he affects his films. His acting is like a kinder version of Clint Eastwood. I hope to see him continue to take an active role in his future films. I think he has more to give the world than Max Payne.