In case you were wondering, this isn’t David O. Russell’s version of The Wrestler. It’s a bit more conventional. And thank the ghost of Harry Carpenter for that. Not knocking The Wrestler in any way (I love that film) but we don’t want our boxing flicks too arty, right? Damn straight.
Mark Wahlberg plays 30 year-old welterweight “Irish” Micky Ward. His older half-brother is Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), former boxer who once took on Sugar Ray Leonard but is now the friendly neighbourhood crackhead. Micky is talented but down on his luck. It seems the problem is not him it’s his family, who wouldn’t look out of place scrapping on Jerry Springer. Junkie Dicky is his trainer, pitbull mother (Melissa Leo) is his manager and his seven sisters hang around like a bad smell.
The Fighter provides some refreshingly un-clichéd fight scenes. No mean feat for such a done-to-death genre. Hats off to Mr Russell for that, and a very welcome back to him also. His last feature was I Heart Huckabees way back in 2004. It seems that had Mark Wahlberg not taken a chance on him (in this his pet project) he may have been relegated to the annuls of movie folklore in a not good way: Clooney almost punched him out on Three Kings, and he bullied Lily Tomlin to tears on Huckabees (embarrassingly, for the entire world to see on YouTube).
While the focus is very much on Micky, more time is given to the shenanigans outside of the ring. It's about the fighter, not about the fights. And it all just works. There isn’t a bad performance in the film. All the nominations are richly deserved. And while this might not be the deepest film in the world it’s not shamelessly award-chasing. It’s solid gold entertainment punching comfortably within its division.