The Fighter

The Fighter (PG-13) ★★★

As I stroll around cinemas in the last weeks of 2010, I can't help but feel a sense of disappointment in what I'm seeing. Take for example David O' Russell's Mickey Ward/boxing biopic The Fighter , it has undeniably great performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo as mother and brother of boxing legend Ward -played straightforwardly by Mark Whalberg- their performances are the heart and soul of an, otherwise, conventional narrative. The Fighter is NOT groundbreaking to say the least, which is a real letdown considering Russell's previous, visionary films. There's the ups, the downs, the final bout and the mandatory love story with a rural girl (an amazing Amy Adams). It all amounts to a predictably enjoyable but nevertheless disappointing film from people we expected much more from. However, Bale's Dickie Ward is the real deal. Whatever you've heard about him is all true. He's practically guaranteed a nomination if not a win at the upcoming Academy Awards. Getting the twitches, speech and mannerisms of his character in a dead on fashion, he create a haunting portrait of a junkie brought down by his own demons. If you think you've seen the best from Bale, wait until you 've seen this.

I also enjoyed Melissa Leo's gritty performance as Mickey's mother Alice Ward, a woman that can be seen as a kind of villainous figure but one who actually has much more to her than meets the eye. Here's a woman that believes in family first before anything else, which comes back to haunt her when she keeps on turning a blind eye with Dickie's drug addiction and constant visits to a crack house in a shady part of town. Alice believes he's Dickie is the right guy to train Mickey. Forget about the final bout or the constant cliches that sometimes appear in The Fighter, at its center, the best of the film is focused on its two most self destructive characters, Alice and Dickie. They are both played by fearless actors that brings out an intensity that can sometimes be lacking or forgotten in Whalberg's portrayal.

It is no surprise that Leo and Bale both grew up and started off in the independent film circuit before making Hollywood films, they are artists through and through and will likely get rewarded for their artistry come Oscar time. Just know that it's not the boxing stuff that resonates here, it's the family stuff. Russell know that the ties that bind are much more forceful, stinging and important than a punch in the boxing dream. Even when the film seems to focus a big chunk of its time on Ward's training and pre-boxing preparation, it's the humanity that breaks through and makes this a worthy watch this Holiday season. This might not be as ambitious as Russell's other films but it's got the best acting he's ever had the chance to direct.