The Fighter has been a passion project of Mark Wahlberg for many years. Since 2005, he has tried to get the true story of Mickey Ward on the big screen. Now that he finally has, he can be proud of his final work. Mickey is not a particularly interesting character. He could be, if only he was allowed to speak more often in his motor-mouthed family. He is consistently drowned out by brother Dicky, mother Alice, and his seven sisters who are as talkative as their hair is tall. Even after he meets Charlene, she is the one that does most of the arguing with his family. But Wahlberg still delivers a terrific, nuanced performance, using body language as a major means of communicating. He frequently gets the look of a small child who knows he is being overshadowed by his older siblings. This seems rather fitting, because Wahlberg's terrific performance is greatly overshadowed by the actor who plays his older brother, Christian Bale.
Bale is simply astounding in his portrayal of down-for-the-count Dicky. Dropping all the muscle and weight he had put on for The Dark Knight (which he will need to put back on for the sequel filming this year), Bale perfectly achieves the look of a boxer turned crack addict. The way he handles his body through movement is as precise as a well timed left hook. Bale should be a favorite to win Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. Another strong competitor for an Oscar should be Melissa Leo, who is brilliant as Mickey and Dicky's mother, Alice. It is a guarantee that at some point you will want to tear her hair out, because she is just so believable as the cocksure head of the family. Leo's performance cuts deep into the audience, as her character cuts deep into Mickey. When she spars with Amy Adams' Charlene, the two create a scathing atmosphere that permeates the whole room.
The Fighter is very much a performance driven film. In fact, without all the exceptional performances, The Fighter would be a rather mediocre, run of the mill sports drama. Director David O. Russell does a good enough job behind the camera, but never really quite takes the film to it's heights. The boxing scenes are done from spectator point of view through a granier lens, and they are not as exciting as they could have been. The film also ends without showing a single one of Mickey's fights with Arturo Gatti, which are arguably the best boxing matches in history. There is a significant emotional conclusion to the film, but physically, there was a severe lacking.
Come Oscar season, The Fighter will get serious consideration for all the top awards, and it makes sense that it would. It is certainly one of the best films of 2010. The acting through and through is superb and deserves recognition. One should hesitate before granting it any writing or directing nominations though, as both were pretty pedestrian. If you can truly appreciate great performances, you will really enjoy this film. My rating (7.5/10)