Every once and a while an actor will take a role and produce a performance that will make you realize that you may have underestimated their capabilities. I think Christian Bale has done this in The Fighter.
I do want to take a moment and be absolutely clear that I am a HUGE Christian Bale fan and that nothing the man does surprises me. Whether he’s playing Jesus or John Conner, the guy gets it done. The screenplay doesn’t even have to be that good; check out Equilibrium, for example – the director allows him to play moments out on his face, and Bale carries the movie on his back like Forest Gump rescuing the guys in his squad during the Viet Nam sequence. He’s been making movies since the 80s and continues to stack up a pile of rave revues for his performances and, obviously, the guy is BATMAN, for pete’s sake! But along comes Christian Bale as Dickie Eklund in The Fighter, and I’m feeling that everyone is at least a little surprised. They shouldn’t be – Bale does not fuck around! Now that’s not to say that Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, or Melissa Leo aren’t delivering great performances in this movie, because they are – but Bale is better. Bale is Better! That should be the rallying cry all the way to his acceptance of every possible award for best supporting actor, because the guy steals every scene he’s in.
Now that I’ve droned on and on about the performances, let me get back to the movie as a whole. For an inspirational sports movie, it doesn’t have a ton of sports in it and is surprising character driven (although I guess you yourself aren’t surprised it’s a character driven movie after my long diatribe about the performances or if you’ve already seen the movie). The movie has this gritty strength to it that really serves the subject matter and the characters well. Bale is once again doing one of his lose a ton of weight, gain a ton of weight things – this time, he’s lost a ton of weight for his role as Dickie – not be confused with his bone thin portrayal in The Machinest or his bulked up style in the Batman movies. Mark Wahlberg is especially diesel in this movie, although I guess that dude is always huge… in any case, Wahlberg gives a fine performance, but Bale is all over this movie’s grill. There is also a strong argument for Amy Adam’s performance, who also shows up and does something a bit unexpected – in fact, I was happy with the overall portrayal of her character as they didn’t try to glam her up and make her look like – well, a movie star, which is what she is (just the thought of the commercial for Leap Year is enough to make me start screaming), but she looked like a real person in The Fighter, and it’s a welcomed change to see a woman in a movie not look like a Vanity Fair model.
I really enjoyed this movie, and I’m not a big fan of the inspirational sports genre. It helps that Micky Ward’s story isn’t one I’m familiar with, and I didn’t feel like things were predictable – speaking of predictable, the swing in this movie from the second act to the third was so smooth, you barely new it was happening – and the third act is a bit longer than it usually is in most movies, although the third act in inspirational sports movies is usually pretty long – yet the movie clocks in at under two hours.
The Fighter is a situation where everyone did everything right: the performances, the directing by David O. Russell, the screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, the photography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, the casting by Sheila Jaffe, the film editing by Pamela Martin… everybody brought their A game, and it shows.