A boxing movie that doesn’t feature a certain Mr. Balboa? Not generally a recipe for success. But The Fighter succeeds where others might fail in part due to the fine performances from the cast, but mostly because all of this is true.
This is the story of “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a journeyman boxer struggling to cope and live up to the adoration his older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) receives from his overbearing family and the small town of Lowell. Dicky, a once promising boxer whose seemingly sole claim to fame is once flooring the legendary “Sugar” Ray Robinson is a larger than life character…he is also a crack addict.
Boxing action plays a secondary part for most of the film; the focus remains steadily on the relationship between Dicky and Micky. Micky has to live with the fact that his once hero is now a liability. He is also caught in the middle by his family’s, in particular his mother, Alice’s (Melissa Leo), refusal to see Dicky for anything other than the golden boy he once was. With Alice as the pushy matriarch of a large boxing obsessed family all of which interfere with Micky’s life and career, it’s no wonder he doesn’t know which way to turn. Their interference and his struggle to be his own man are pushed further as he embarks on a family-disapproved relationship with barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams).
Dicky’s desperation to cling on to his one shining moment comes across as tragic and is a clear reason for his escapism via the crack pipe. However, far from coming across as a degenerate, Dicky’s extravagant charm shines through even when reliving former glories in a crack den. Perhaps this is because the film subtly avoids getting into details surrounding where Dicky may have obtained the money to fund his habit. It is a little disconcerting that Dicky’s addiction seems to be used as a comedy aside until the “Crack In America” documentary airs.
The only time we see Dicky’s comical attempts to get money the cause is to support his brother in a bid to prevent him leaving to join a professional training camp. This eventually leads to Dicky’s incarceration which also gives Micky the chance to become his own man and step out of his big brother’s shadow.
It is a suitably gritty story of a clearly dysfunctional family chasing a dream of the big time having tasted it once. We also see the reality of the boxing circuits in the lower ranking bouts which helps show the passion for boxing is one that drives them on.
By keeping clear of the actual boxing The Fighter ensure that the audience identifies and understand the life that Micky leads, so when the obligatory training montage and the fights themselves do appear you really are enthralled in Micky’s quest to overcome his hardships and achieve glory.
Director David O. Russell switches film stock, I’m guessing from film to video, during boxing events which adds to the feeling that this is a true story, as it almost appears that you are watching actual old footage of the fights. And a bonus of not being a boxing afficienado meant that I had no idea how any of the fights would pan out.
It is a well crafted film that is bound to have Christian Bale singled out as a favourite for an Oscar and were I to have seen more of the actual Dicky (seen at the end credits) I’m certain that his characterisation is spot on. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo also excel in their supporting roles as strong and feisty women. Mark Wahlberg, so often hit and miss with his performances (compare The Departed to The Happening) scores a resounding hit in a role that is said to be very close to his heart.
The ensemble works, the directing adds realism and as is so often the case this true story is a story worth telling.
My Rating: 4/5