The Fighter Director: David O Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
It's that time of year again - the road to the Oscars is fraught with rumours, shifts in momentum and, of course, all the contenders maximising their awards potential for the audiences' "consideration". No surprise, then, that the studio behind The Fighter has made much of its central pairing, the archetypal tough guy Mark Wahlberg and the caped crusader (and sometime tantrum thrower) Christian Bale.
With talk of golden statues starting before the film had even been completed, is director David O Russell's (Three Kings) sporting opus worth the hype? Wahlberg, in his third collaboration with Russell, plays "Irish" Micky Ward, a boxer from the mean streets of Massachusetts. The film centres on his rise to the top of the welterweight division, an ascent that helps not only his own life but that of his troubled half-brother "Dicky" Ekland (Bale), recently released from prison and who uses his own career as a boxer, cut short by his addiction to crack, to train Ward to an unlikely title shot. Aficionados of boxing will recognise that this is more about the rise of Ward than the complete story, but nonetheless this is a superb film no matter how you feel about "the sweet science". It is by no means perfect - it does, for example, tread the path of other sports movies, notably the first Rocky - but that is not to say this is formulaic.
Rather, it draws on some keystones of Hollywood drama that are indeed familiar but executes them in the right way. This is a passion project from Wahlberg, who is friends with the real-life Ward and underwent a long period of training (which at one point saw him taking tips from Manny Pacquiao and building a gym in his own house). It is certainly the strongest performance from the Boston native; it's just a shame in some respects that he shares the screen with Bale, who is spellbinding as the wayward sibling. The Fighter is also a rare sporting beast in that it offers strong roles for its female leads. Amy Adams and the noted character actress Melissa Leo are spirited and engaging as Ward's love interest and the brothers' mother respectively. It may not bring a lot of originality to the table, but The Fighter is a tale told with the deft precision of a talented filmmaker and the enthusiasm of a lead who cares about his subject.