David O. Russell's The Fighter is a true achievement in casting and sports documentation. This movie that really came out of nowhere and debuted to glowing reviews is yet another in a long string of quality boxing films (Rocky, Million Dollar Baby, Raging Bull). What sets this film apart from most boxing epics is the spectacular character development throughout. By the time we get to the final fight, the audience is so invested in the main characters of this film that the tension seems to reach new heights.
The Fighter tells the true story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his brother Dickie (Christian Bale), a former fighter who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Micky is trying to make his own comeback to get a payday which would help financially support his daughter and his girlfriend (played by Amy Adams). Dickie helps out as Micky's trainer but is constantly battling the effects of being addicted to crack. We get to see the Ward family and their dysfunctional roster of characters including 7 typical townie (big hair) Ward sisters and their loving but hyper-controlling Mom Alice (played with vigor and brilliance by Melissa Leo).
I won't get into plot details as part of the enjoyment of this film is to experience the trials and tribulations of the Ward family along with the characters themselves. Needless to say this is really Christian Bale's movie. His portrayal of Dickie is spot-on (especially when you see the real-life Dickie during the end credits) and he totally convincingly conveys a serious drug addiction. You find yourself rooting for him in the end though as you get to experience a total character arc from disgrace to redemption. Leo is right behind Bale as the prototypical controlling Mom who wants the best for her family but doesn't realize that she's over-stepping her bounds. Adams and Wahlberg are excellent as well, in fact this is probably Marky Mark's best work since Boogie Nights. He perfectly fills the shoes of a Boston-bred boxer.
Russell shines once again in the Director's chair and nails the method of shooting his boxing ring scenes. They're shot via an HBO-style feed using digital video that makes it seem like you are watching the fights unfold on TV. There really isn't that much fighting in the film (despite the movie's title) but what we do see is produced perfectly. The drams that ensues between the fights are so vivid raw and real that you do feel like you are standing there witnessing the events first-hand. This is one of the grittiest, most authentic Boston movies to come around in a long time (with all due respect to Ben Affleck's The Town, this is REAL Boston).
When you add the cinematography, acting and overall entertainment value together you get the 3rd 5 JR movie of 2010. The Fighter is one of the best sports movies I've ever seen and has more heart and character than most of the Rocky films (I still have a soft spot for Rocky IV). The acting across the board is by far the best we've seen in 2010 and expect many nominations for this terrific ensemble cast. This is Marky Mark's crowning achievement and hopefully will bring home well-deserved Oscar gold for Christian Bale.