Posted December 19, 2010 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

The Fighter: Fun But Shallow

“The Fighter,” from director David O. Russell, is shallow and over-long with a surprisingly dull lead performance from Mark Wahlberg. Melissa Leo and Christian Bale more than make up for Wahlberg’s flatness by giving highly comic, over-the-top supporting performances. But even here, everything about the work is superficial. Fun but shallow.

Russell first showed promise in the 1990s with such films as “Flirting with Disaster” and “Three Kings.” In 2004, he wrote and directed the breathtakingly original and philosophically astute “I Heart Huckabees,” which never got the acclaim it deserved. Now after an extended break, Russell brings us “The Fighter,” representing a real step back for him artistically. It appears that Russell wants to become a commercial filmmaker. I certainly understand the need to pay the rent and put one’s kids through college, but I’m not sure producing vacuous work is the only way to earn a living in the movies. Russell is capable of so much more than what is seen on the screen in “The Fighter.” Even the title is bland, for heaven’s sake.

The film tells the story of Dicky and Micky, half-brothers from Lowell, Massachusetts, a depressed former mill town near Boston. Dicky Ecklund (played by Bale) was a minor sensation in the boxing world in the late 1970s, going toe to toe with Sugar Ray Leonard in a notable 1978 bout. After being crowned “The Pride of Lowell,” Ecklund drifted into crack addiction, becoming somewhat renowned in that area as well after a 1995 documentary about the ravages of crack ran on HBO (“High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell”).

Micky Ward (Wahlberg) followed his brother into boxing, going pro in the mid-1980s and then staging a comeback in the late 90s. Ward’s bouts were named Fight of the Year three years in a row by Ring magazine (2001, 2002, and 2003). Now 45, Ward is retired.

The film focuses on the mid-1990s, when Ecklund was knee-deep in crack and Ward was contemplating a comeback, which was in part inspired by his new girlfriend (played adequately by Amy Adams).

Russell has a lot of fun sending up the florid accents and big hair of working-class Lowell, but other than an affectionate parody of that culture, which Wahlberg himself is from, “The Fighter” has little content. This is nothing more than a TV movie with talented actors. Everyone will be mildly entertained by “The Fighter,” but I don’t suspect anyone will be moved by it in a meaningful way.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.