Christian Bale shines in “The Fighter”

By Brian Canova

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Based on the true story of fighters Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and half brother Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale) of Lowell, Mass. comes “The Fighter.” Amherst College graduate David O. Russel (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) directs the film. Less about boxing than about family, “The Fighter,” tells the story of pride, the people you surround yourself with and the strength they provide, leading up to Micky Ward’s shot at the World Welterweight Championship. Filmed in just 33 days after nearly four years of preparation, “The Fighter” is tragic and triumphant, and Bale’s best performance in years.

Dicky Ecklund, the once great fighter and pride of Lowell turned degenerate crack addict, is shown through the lens of an HBO documentary filming crew as he weighs down those around him, namely his younger half-brother, Micky Ward. In 1995, HBO Films released the documentary “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell,” featuring a segment following Dicky Ecklund, which he believed focused on his comeback. Russell brought in the HBO filming crew of the early 90s to recreate the feel of this renowned and harrowing look into Crack Street U.S.A. as the crack epidemic swept the country.

The casting is flawless and the characters fascinate, each alive and real, with Bale’s performance unquestionably stealing the show. The intense family dynamic, the bitter and resentful gang of sisters, and the film’s universally powerful cast of women stand out. Micky’s sense of allegiance to his family, and responsibility for their incompetence fades after meeting Charlene (Amy Adams), a local bartender who gives him a sense of worth apart from his dysfunctional family.

“The Fighter” explores the issue of what we choose to see and believe, especially when it involves the people we love. The family, including seven ever-present sisters and Micky’s mother/manager (Melissa Leo) and father, perpetually denies Dicky’s addiction.  Rather than help, the family fuels the fantasy of Dicky’s delusional fairy tale comeback. There is hardly a more heart-wrenching picture than Dicky, at the sound of his mother knocking on the front door of his crack house hideaway, leaping from the second story window on the opposite side of the triple-decker into a pile of trash to run away.  His mother, accustomed to this behavior, races around back to catch him in the act.

On the brink of losing everything while looking out for his strung-out brother, Micky distances himself from his family in exchange for paid training with professionals. However, despite the family tendency to pimp him out to sleaze ball promoters for a quick buck in mismatched fights, he’s never fully able to let them go.

“I want my family. What’s wrong with that?” he cries. As much as this is a story about those who bring us down, it’s also a story of tough love and those who hold us up, giving us the strength to stand.

Micky comes to stand on his own two feet despite his managing mother, crack-addicted brother, and tawdry pack of sisters, living the dream that’s his instead of theirs. “The Fighter” is everything a viewer could hope for, eliciting the raw excitement and inspiration that only triumph and redemption can. The acting is superb, and so is the casting. The performances are heartbreakingly genuine, the movie connects and the story surprises. You’ll be on the edge of your seat from the first punch to the last as you ride down Crack Street U.S.A. and watch the pride of Lowell dance under the lights with the inspiration, the heart, and the fight that this dream is all about.

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected]