Get ready rock and roll with one of the best films of the year. Bale and Leo hit you like a sock on the jaw.
When you saw him in “American Psycho” you knew there was something big cooking behind those beady eyes. As he made his way through the sci-fi flotsam to play the stranded pilot in “Rescue Dawn” and then the farmer in “3:10 to Yuma” Christian Bale started poking out in dimensions that just kept on coming. By the time he played Melvin Purvis in “Public Enemies” he was so good the audience was almost rooting for him instead of John Dillinger (played by Johnny Depp, who had to fight to keep control of the screen).
With Bale’s co-starring role in “The Fighter” he has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the silver screen. Playing working-class crack-addicted Dickie Eklund he manages to be heavy and light at the same time. He is as heavy as Charles Bukowski, jumping from second story windows into piles of trash bags out of crack houses.
Then with the wink of an eye he is goodness and light. He goes from young to old in the same scene and back again in the next. As a professional boxer, the real Dickie was known for bobbing and weaving. Bale manages to bob and weave his way through this entire film, recording his best performance to date. Considering his past successes, that is a great achievement.
Mark Walhberg, in the lead role, has one of his best performances as well. However, the real star of the show is Melissa Leo playing Lowell, Massachusetts, working-class boxer-stage-mom Alice. Alice considers herself Dickie and Mickey Ward’s guiding light. However, if the lights are on, there is no one home. Leo comes to this film with a long string on credits, stretching back to her award nominated performances on the TV soap “All My Children” in the mid-80’s.
Discriminating audiences had brief chances to see her in “21 Grams” and “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” before she emerged with a genuine chance to show what she could do in “Frozen River” released almost exactly two years ago in 2008. In “River” she played a tough character opposite an even tougher character played by Misty Upham. Finally, a part with some chemistry.
The two sizzled on the screen against of stark, frozen and lethal backdrop of the frozen Quebec winter.
Whether it is because of the genius of director David O. Russell, the enthralling screenplay of “Fighter” or simply the ferociously flawed nature of Ma Eklund, Melissa Leo hit the ground running on this one and uncorked one of the best performances of the year.
She is so good she is scary. When you see her mangle the first part of future welterweight champ “Irish” Mickey Ward’s career in cooperation with crack-head Dickie you want to jump out of your seat and throttle her image right on the screen. She is that good.
Mark Walhberg is the nominal star of the show, playing “Rocky” copy Mickey Ward, the real-life boxing champ who had to overcome every imaginable hurdle except polio to win the title. He has the toughest part of the film because he has to play a person who is actually in control of his senses while, seemingly, the two people he loves most have completely lost theirs.
Bale and Leo, playing borderline lunatics, have so much more fun in this film. Nonetheless, he also comes through with a super performance in spite of the fact that he must be a little pre-occupied with producing a hundred or two TV episodes and also acting as one of the producers of this film.
Wahlberg’s performance in “The Departed” is still his best, although “The Fighter” may be a better film overall. It is that good.
Leo’s and Bale’s best performance of their careers and Wahlberg’s second best are backed up by some of the best supporting work seen this year. Dendrie Taylor, Bianca Hunter and Erica McDermott play Gail “Red Dog,” “ Cathy “Pork” and Cindy “Tar” Ecklund, three of Mickey Ward’s six sisters.
The sisters make a howlingly hilarious beer-soaked Irish chorus that appears capable of reducing the most complex interpersonal relationships single syllable grunts. Amy Adams does a good job as Mickey Ward’s faithful and supportive girlfriend, another tough role as a normal person, while everyone else around her is having all the fun playing morons. Adams is still looking for that breakthrough role.
Her upcoming films “On the Road” (2011) with a stellar ensemble cast and, especially, her starring role in “Janis Joplin: Get It While You Can” (2012) will hold some big surprises for her fans.