I had a good friend who carried his family and friends he grew up with like a millstone around his neck. It seemed he was destined to be swallowed up by all the drama and bad behavior they supplied since he was unwilling to get the heck out of Dodge (as I more colorfully advised).
This made me wonder if it was truly possible to escape your heritage. Regardless of our hopes and dreams, are we truly destined to fly no higher than the people we surround ourselves with?
This is the central theme of the new film “The Fighter.” It is the true story of working-class boxer Mickey Ward who rose to greatness from working on a road crew in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Before you say to yourself, “Hey, this rags-to-riches storyline sounds familiar. I know, it’s every boxing movie ever made;” know that “The Fighter” is less about the man in the ring and more about those who surround it. They are the ones who make this movie great.
Mickey is played by Mark Wahlberg, whose acting strength is the role of the everyman. He nails it here and is able to take his performance to even greater heights thanks to the absolutely killer supporting cast he gets to work with.
Christian Bale plays Mickey’s half-brother Dickey Eklund, a local-boxing legend who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight (although the odds are pretty good that Sugar Ray merely tripped.)
Dickey is Mickey’s trainer and a functioning crack addict to boot, so he’s not the most reliable guy to have in your corner.
Bale lost a crazy amount of weight for this part and when you get past the initial shock and thoughts like “Wow, this dude’s committed” or “I hope he doesn’t have to play Batman again any time soon or the Joker is going to kick his butt,” you forget all of that as Bale disappears into Dickey.
It’s hard to imagine anyone beating Bale out for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year, I just hope he puts on some weight before then so he can fill out a tux.
Not to be outdone is Melissa Leo as Mickey and Dickey’s mother Alice. Leo conjures up a storm of white-trash drama as Alice ignores Dickey’s problems while acting as Mickey’s manager.
In Alice’s wake travels a posse of seven adult daughters, each a bleach-blonde multiplier of Alice’s influence, forming a clone army with “Baaaastan” accents.
Between Dickey and Alice, Mickey’s career is headed nowhere fast. Blind loyalty to his family keeps Mickey tied down to bad fights and flimsy paydays, much to the chagrin of Mickey’s mentor Mickey O’Keefe, played, incidentally, by the real Mickey O’Keefe. How’s that for authenticity?
Mickey’s life changes when he meets Charlene, a local bartender played in yet another powerhouse performance by the usually cute and cuddly Amy Adams. Best known for bubblier roles, Adams sinks her teeth into Charlene, a tough customer in her own right whose love for Mickey allows her to stand toe-to-toe with his family to battle for his best interests.
Adams hits the bullseye on the “vulnerable-yet-tough” target. Charlene is the type of woman you would want on your side if a bar fight started going south. Both Adams and Leo are sure to be on several Best Supporting Actress short lists.
“The Fighter” becomes most rousing not in the ring, but when Mickey stands up for himself and shapes his own destiny instead of letting others sway it one direction or another.
Director David O. Russell is best known for showier movies like “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees,” but he shows a lot of maturity here in knowing when to get out of his own way.
“The Fighter” is like a punch to the gut, but in a good way. The performances wallop you but its Mickey’s journey that lingers days later. Plus it won’t make you throw up on your shoes. What more could you ask?
“The Fighter” is rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.
Mat DeKinder (email@example.com) was once described by a guy named Nate as “the Jackie Moon of film critics.” He appears courtesy of Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis.