Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson
|Featuring||Mark Wahlberg ('Irish' Mickey Ward), Christian Bale (Dickie Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene), Robert Wahlberg (Prison Guard), Melissa Leo (Alice), See all »|
|Director||David O. Russell—“Three Kings,” “I Heart Huckabees”|
|Producer||Fighter, Mandeville Films, Relativity Media, Darren Aronofsky, See all »|
Boxing movies do an excellent job of showing the best and worst of humanity. Whether in the actual physical violence of the sport or in the internal struggle of the characters, boxing films have the ability to magnify every aspect of the human condition. They aren’t all winners, as evidenced by such clunkers as “Price of Glory” and “Against the Ropes”, however, some boxing movies transcend the normalcy and cliché of sports movies to become something more: a redemptive character study. The movie “Rocky” is the classic underdog story that has been mimicked by countless sports movies since. Scorcese’s “Raging Bull” is considered by many to be a masterpiece, and is unflinching in its portrayal of the downfall of a onetime prize fighter. Based on a true story, “The Fighter” tells the story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his troubled brother Dicky Ecklund, and their unlikely run to boxing greatness. While it’s more realistic than “Rocky” and more formulaic than “Raging Bull”, it’s also an excellent addition to the canon of boxing classics.
Micky Ward and his older half brother Dicky Ecklund are local legends in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts. They have seven sisters and an over dramatic mother whom they call Alice. In Ecklund’s prime, he went head to head with boxing legend “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Ecklund is notorious in Lowell for knocking down Leonard, even though he lost the fight. Micky is an aspiring boxer who lives in the shadow of his larger than life brother. Even though Dicky is beloved by everyone in Lowell, he is addicted to cocaine and cares more about himself than he does anyone else. After losing several fights, Micky decides he has had enough of boxing and his entire family. After taking some time off, Micky decides to come back and makes a historical run to the junior welterweight championship of the world.
“The Fighter” sounds like just another sports movie filled with clichés, slow motion, and phony melodrama, and it very well could have been. Instead, director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”, “I Heart Huckabees”) focuses on the people, instead of the sport, weaving a spellbinding story that is gripping and realistic. By the time of the championship fight, it doesn’t matter that the viewer knows what is going to happen, because the journey has been so memorable. Russell was filmed mostly on location in Lowell, using the actual homes and hangouts of Micky and Dicky. The result is a movie that feels incredibly authentic.
While Russell makes the “The Fighter” worth seeing, the acting makes it one of the best movies of the year. As Micky Ward, Mark Wahlberg delivers an impressive and layered performance. He is outdone by Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”) who is pitch-perfect as his exhausting, overbearing manager/mother Alice. She is outdone by Christian Bale, who gives the performance of the year as the eminently likeable Dicky Ecklund. Bale is unrecognizable in the role, and it is reported that he lost a considerable amount of weight for the film.
Advertisements for “The Fighter” have described it as “‘The Blind Side’ meets ‘Rocky’.” While those two movies range from good to great, this comparison could not be further from the truth. It probably comes from the movie being a true story that is also about a boxer, but those are where the similarities end. “The Fighter” is a much grittier, more realistic film. While those two films are more family-friendly (at least for teens), “The Fighter” is for adults only.
Director Russell does not pull any punches (pun intended) when it comes to the violence of boxing or the harsh reality of the people in Lowell, MA. Heavy language is present throughout the film, and there are several scenes of domestic violence. Scenes involving Dicky’s drug use are very realistic and sometimes hard to watch, but there is nothing glamorous or positive about his drug use, and the film clearly shows a direct relationship between Dicky’s addiction and his downfall. While there is no nudity, there are plenty of sexual situations involving women in various stages of undress.
For the considerable amount of objectionable content he or she must sit through, what does the viewer get in return? In one word: redemption. “The Fighter” is a powerful redemptive story of one brother who battles and defeats his addiction and another who gets a second chance at life and at boxing, and he defies the odds to become the unlikeliest of champions. Along with redemption, the film is also about family, and how they can bring you down or help build you up. Just like Ward himself, “The Fighter” is profane and imperfect, but also resilient, redemptive, and ultimately winning.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Heavy