David O. Russell’s The Fighter is a boxing movie about second chances and unlikely redemptions—not least the director’s. It’s been six years since Russell last had a movie in theaters, and the hiatus has not been kind to his reputation. His last movie, I Heart Huckabees, flopped, his tantrums on that set became the stuff of YouTube legend, and another project, Nailed, was aborted after Russell clashed with his actors and the funding stopped. Too smart for the multiplex, and too wild for Hollywood? It figures that Russell would make his return with a film blanched of idiosyncrasy.
The least interesting movie of Russell’s interesting career, The Fighter was someone else’s passion project. Mark Wahlberg nursed the story of Lowell, Massachusetts, boxing legend Micky Ward for years, even training with the real life Ward and his half-brother Dickie Eklund in preparation for the role. In the early Nineties, Ward was a boxer on the slow track to becoming a stepping stone—the kind of fighter promoters sign as sacrificial lambs for true contenders. His brother Dickie had been a Lowell boxing hero in his day, even knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard (or so he insists—the tape is ambiguous) in a 1978 bout. Dickie devoted his post-fight career to training his brother for the shot he never had. Read Elbert Ventura’s review of The Fighter.