Speaking of movies about... stuff that I was just totally against in that last review.
The Fighter is a movie about overcoming things. Not that every movie you've ever watched isn't about overcoming things (with the exception of The Big Lebowski, I suppose), but this one is basically only about overcoming things, like addiction and the people who're standing in your way, and all those things that little indie movies love to deal with. Mostly, though, it’s about overcoming your British accent in order to add a Lowell one instead so that everyone will realized that holy crapballs can Christian Bale act.
I like Mark Wahlberg as much as the next guy, but the guy doesn’t really have a lot of range (though maybe that’s because he’s acting alongside Bale here, who seems to have nothing but range). That said, whenever he’s in a film that fits his blue-collar tough guy routine, there’s no one who can really do what he does (when they first started making “Entourage”, they were looking for a Mark Wahlberg-type for the lead, before finally a casting director said “y’know, there’s not really anyone else out there like Mark. He’s it.”). He’s great here – he hones his body into fighter shape, and lets you track his story almost wordlessly, letting the audience learn everything they need to from his body language. Because he’s a beefier actor, moviegoers have a tendency to box him in (I swear to God, no pun intended) with Stallone and Statham and other actors with very few clubs in their bag, but really he’s a young Bruce Willis – an actor who forces you to read him very carefully even in the midst of an action film. And I love Willis, so that’s quite a compliment.
But really, it’s Christian Bale who deserves the accolades here (and is getting them - he's a lock for an Oscar in a few weeks). I know that Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are both Oscar-nominated, and deservedly so – Leo’s outstanding as Wahlberg’s overly controlling mother, and despite being considerably uglied-up for the role, Adams has never seemed lovelier – but no review could possibly ignore Bale’s performance. In addition to his accent, he lost a scary amount of weight (and hair) in his efforts to transform into Wahlbergs’ meth-head older brother (you'd have to be a Meth-od actor to do it. Ha! I crack me up), but that’s the least of his performance here. For Bale, that’s just the first step into getting into the head of the blustery, sad, lonely Dickie, who lives permanently in the shadow of what he could have been. He’s so tremendous here that it seems shocking that he’s never snagged an Oscar nomination before.
I’ve said a few snide words about David O. Russell getting a directing nomination over Christopher Nolan, but I can't deny that he does great work here. Every one of the actors is pitch-perfect, and the fight scenes are thrillingly realistic. For a movie that must’ve seemed a little boorish at it pitch meeting (a boxer overcomes his overbearing family, no wonder Wahlberg struggled to get this film made for so long), it’s as solid a sports movie as I’ve ever seen. A couple questionable music choices knock it down a few notches (a fighter training in Lowell, Massachusetts in the mid-nineties has a montage to a Red Hot Chili Peppers song from 2006 feels jarring, especially when you consider how California-specific Chili Peppers songs always feel), but I enjoyed the film so much that when I came home, I pulled out my speed bag gloves and punched the wall for an hour. The film left me feeling incredibly amped, which is exactly the way a sports movie should leave you.