Mark Wahlberg chased the part of Ward for years, taking a boxing trainer on location to all his films, even trying to buy the rights at one point, and he makes a solidly convincing lead. He's the powerful, quiet, dignified heart of the piece, but it is those around him who were always destined to garner more of the attention. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams were both Oscar nominated for their parts as Ward's mother and girlfriend respectively, and both do sterling work playing against type.
Leo is both monstrous and loving as the eventually jilted manager/matriarch, and Adams is superb as the hard-bitten barmaid Charlene who takes on the Ward clan's seven strong troupe of ugly sisters when the inevitable fractures begin to emerge within the familial ties. Compare this to Adams' previous Oscar nominated turn in Junebug - her range is incredible.
But the film is ultimately the love story of two brothers, and it's Christian Bale as brother/trainer Dicky Eckland who steals the film whenever he's on screen. Bale undergoes his trademark physical transformation to play the wiry, balding Eckland and puts in a superbly intense, twitchy performance, nailing the crack addled mannerisms, and hyperactive style of speech. It's the deterioration of the brothers' relationship, as Dicky's crack addiction takes hold, and their eventual reconciliation which lifts this story above the usual mediocre underdog fare.
While the DVD quality is good, painting as detailed a picture of Lowell, Massachusetts where it's set and filmed, on the small as the big screen, the package as a whole feels like a missed opportunity. There's the usual deleted scenes, and director's commentary, but after watching such a fascinating true story, it's inevitable that the viewer will want to find out more about the real characters involved.
There's forty minutes worth of behind the scenes action – split over two featurettes – where we get to see the real Micky and Dicky on set every day, interacting with the actors that play them, and talking through their views on the film. But I wanted more. This is crying out for a full length documentary, with more detail about both the real history that's being fictionalised and the amount of input the characters being featured got to have upon the story of their lives. The snippets we get of Bale and Wahlberg boxing with Ward and Eckland are funny and interesting, but are mere teasers to what could have been offered had a bit more effort been put in.
It's hard to see how much story there's left to tell, but with Wahlberg hinting at a further two films to complete a Fighter trilogy (well he wants his Oscar nomination too, doesn't he?), maybe the super deluxe boxset in ten years time will satiate my desire to see more of the real people being portrayed. As it is, I'm more than happy to settle down in front of this solidly entertaining, and moving slice of sporting drama.