Bale Good; Wahlberg Bad
Starring: Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg
Written by Robert Patrick
Boxing movies always seem to contain a certain formula. This formula, like motor oil, helps the engine run better, more efficiently. You always need a woman, who apprehensively suggests that you should go for your goals, though she is quietly pulling out her nails as if her teeth were the claw of a construction hammer. Your character should also be run down, preferably a dock worker, and perhaps, if the plot so calls for it, privilege to a great life loss that will help motivate him through the ranks. Your protagonist should also be Irish or Italian, or if you want to light the world on fire, both. Also, most importantly, never go into the ring without a thoroughbred score. You need a theme song that suggests you are a downed phoenix climbing from the ashes of perpetual defeat. The aforementioned things should assure you that your character, whether based in fact or fiction, should be a unanimous crowd pleasure. There is one ingredient, however, that I forgot to mention:
You need a trainer that has more barbs on him than a gate surrounding a junkyard. And even though the barbs can be sanded down, in an effort show the good parts of your trainer’s soul, they must always be prevalent and bumpy as the skin of a goose.
That’s why Christian Bale is so pivotal in “The Fighter”. Bale is the most likable loser you can find in a boxing film. He is wiry and loose, gaunt but tone, full of life but wielding death. Bale looks like an emaciated Joe Strummer with a mean right hook. His body shirts are soiled and his Massachusetts accent folds the syllables of his words as if they were origami boxes. The actor plays Dickie Ecklund, a foil star that was once stuck to the side of Lowell as if it he were a congratulatory sticker from the thumb of a proud teacher. Dickie was a boxer, who famously fought Sugar Ray Leonard, and had all of the potential in the world. As many success stories continue to go forward in the right direction, Dickie couldn’t drop the ballast of his bad decisions, so he ended up putting a boot on the tire of his career. Meth is never a good choice.
Dickie’s brother, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), hadn’t quite sparred his way to the top of the ranks like his brother did, but he is attempting to make it there. Micky isn’t entirely too self-destructive – at least not as much as everyone else – and tries to stop his family tree from being hacked down by axe of their own selfish, bullheaded ways. Mark Wahlberg is a sensible decision to play the innocuous, relatively stoic Ward. Not to mention that Wahlberg always looks like he is carved out of granite. For him to pick a role that requires him to simply take off his shirt and swing at things isn’t really above his range. Marky Mark plays Micky Ward like a Rock-Em-Sock-Em-Robot with the smarts of a grapefruit. Maybe that is good character acting, but I didn’t see him, during any of the emotional scenes, looking like he could command a line of sincere dialogue. I felt like he was reading a children’s book for the first time.
Amy Adams, who plays Micky’s girlfriend, wags her finger at people and sticks up for the indecisive Ward. When Adams isn’t punching like a nail gun, she wears clothes that you would see in an American Apparel advertisement. Her acting is good, but she exists, as I mentioned earlier, simply as a plot device to further the story of Ward’s success.
Aside from Adams and Wahlberg putting in pedestrian performances, Melissa Leo, who plays the boys’ mother, is phenomenal. When she speaks her words spray like a scattergun. Her hair is puffed up like the top of a stock of broccoli, her makeup could rival Mimi Bobeck’s, and her manipulative rage could be mistaken for Elizabeth Taylor’s in “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?” . It’s a great performance from Leo, who delivers her lines with ferocity. “The Fighter” is sort of a mixed bag, unfortunately, as it has some monumental performances (Bale and Leo) and some lazy performances (Wahlberg and Adams). The screenplay isn’t that great to begin with, so it requires a lot of personification from the leads.
David O. Russell’s film is worth seeing for Bale’s slimy turn as Dickie Ecklund, but if you don’t expect the moon, you’ll at least have fun stargazing. And anytime Bale can jettison the awful Batman accent, the movie gets an extra star by default.