Sylvester Stallone's 'Rocky' erupted onto the scene in 1976. That film garnered both a best picture and best director Oscar, and spawned four sequels and a series reboot in 2006. Since the original, boxing films have been a cliched staple in Hollywood, filled with weak characters and tired formulas. However, there is a film this year that greatly improves upon all the boxing films before it. David O. Russell's 'The Fighter' comes out swinging, and doesn't let go until the credits roll.
Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward in this film based on a true story. Ward is a down-on-his-luck road worker in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is the very portrait of a working-class man who just can't seem to catch a break. He sees his daughter every second weekend, and his ex loathes his very existence. However, Ward has one thing going for him. With the help of Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale), a former pro boxer and his brother, Ward lots to move up in the boxing profession. He wants to achieve fame and fortune in the ring, and bring his family out of the dumps and into the limelight. However, the very people he's trying to help are the exact people who keep bringing him down.
Ward's brother Dicky is a dope fiend. He's a hometown hero who, somewhere along the line, lost his way. He is convinced he can help his brother achieve fame, but can't get away from his own demons long enough to train his brother. Ecklund is played by Christian Bale, who looks wiry and frail in the film. The signature bravura and toned build he brings to the Batman franchise is gone, and he's looking more like his character from 'The Machinist' than anything else. Bale attacks the role with such intensity and precision that he astounds with his talent. If you weren't a fan of his work before, it'll be impossible not to be impressed after the display he puts on in this film.
Melissa Leo brilliantly plays Ward's mother, who is also his manager. She's determined to see him succeed, at any cost, including her son's physical and mental health. She is high-strung, and is ready to slam anything and anyone who gets in the way of her son's (but more likely her own) fame and fortune. It is for this reason that she despises Ward's girlfriend Charlene.
Charlene (Amy Adams) is a college graduate who works in bars because she can't seem to catch a break and get out of the trappings of her hometown. She falls in love with Ward, and immediately tries to nurture Ward's goals and ambitions, while trying to push his toxic family out of the way. Adams is unbelievable in the role, and her screen presence is spectacular. It seems the naive good soul who starred in films like 'Enchanted' and 'Julie & Julia' has shed her skin, and in this film Adams gains immense independence (and a tramp stamp) in a role sure to put her on the list of the best actresses working today.
Wahlberg, in fact, gives the weakest performance of the whole cast. A strange paradox, as it also happens to be the best one of his career. The actor hits it out of the park with his portrayal of a man torn between his career and the bond created by blood. He loves his family, but understands they are a drain on him. Although their intentions are good, they're thinking more about themselves than him. Wahlberg shows this struggle with deep emotion, and in fact, has many moments that showcase his true talent like never before. The only problem is that, with a cast this well-rounded, the lead is almost completely overshadowed by his co-stars.
'Rocky' is the premiere boxing film in contemporary cinema. Scratch that. It was the premiere boxing film in contemporary cinema. 'The Fighter', with its' one-two punch of brilliant visuals and astounding performances, is going toe-to-toe with that classic film in the final round, and it may just come out on top. It has garnered six Golden Globe nominations, both for the film, director, and the stars mentioned. In a pretty weak year for movies, 'The Fighter' is a knock-out.