Despite the focus on boxing, The Fighter is a drama about much more than sports. It goes deeper and revolves around relationships: with family, romantic flames, a hometown wanting pride in a hero, and the relationship with one’s self. David O. Russell directs a true-to-life depiction of these relationships in and out of the ring, in this compelling, gritty, and moving story starring a remarkable cast.
Set in a blue-collar Lowell, MA neighborhood during the 1980s, The Fighter is based on the true story of the early pro career of “Irish” Micky Ward, a junior welterweight boxer. Mark Wahlberg portrays Micky, who lives in the shadow of former boxer and half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The two men are close not just as family, but also professionally, as Dicky serves as Micky’s trainer. But when Dicky’s trouble with drugs and the law (The things that ended his own boxing career) catches up to him, Micky is advised to seek training from other people—that means having to move away from Dicky and their manager mother Alice (Melissa Leo). He finds a strong support system in his bartender girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams), but she doesn’t fare so well with the family. Jack McGee co-stars as Alice’s husband and Mickey O’Keefe, a police sergeant who trained the real-life Micky, plays himself in the role.
The Fighter doesn’t merely focus on Micky, but also on Dicky. In fact, part of the framing of the film is that it’s a movie-within-a-movie, where a documentary [exposing some sad truths] on Dicky is being made. His fall is not only his, but Micky and their families as well. Mixed with those troubles and business deals shutting out Dicky and Alice, the familial situation becomes quite complicated and dramatic than they already were at the beginning of the movie. Micky and Dicky’s seven grown-up sisters (Most of them are not easy on the eyes), however, add a funny and light-hearted element. In fact, as intense and emotional The Fighter can be for a good deal of time, there are quite a few humorous moments found for a drama.
On a technical scale, a couple of cuts and edits looked and felt awkward, but the cinematography is well-done and the soundtrack is true to the period. The bright and glossy shooting mode during the fight scenes distinguished from the rest of the movie and gave the feel of watching an actual fight in a living room, minus much of the fight itself. Those scenes, though well-choreographed and moderately brutal, show more of the ringside reactions from Micky’s entourage and the crowd. But in addition to incorporating real-life footage of Micky and Dicky’s fights, Michael Buffer’s voice, and a Sugar Ray Leonard cameo (Dicky’s most notable opponent), they add to the realism of the movie.
The actors are grade-A in their roles and make the film not only enjoyable, but make it one to connect with and be touched by. While Wahlberg carries the film admirably as the top-billed actor and character, it is Bale’s performance that is the most gripping and commanding. He trades his natural British accent for a heavy East Coast one, twinged for Dicky’s crack addiction. While a happy-go-lucky big brother to Micky, he’s a troubled character riddled by his own demons, and Bale stretches himself and rises to the demands to act the part. The female leads also live up to critical acclaim. Leo’s matriarch is fiercely caring and protective, borderlining on dangerously powerful in a dysfunctional household and as a businesswoman. Adams ventures into new territory from her good girl roles and shines even as a rough, sailor-like talking, scantily clad college dropout who is fearless in fighting for herself and Micky.
Marked by captivating storytelling, rawness, outstanding performances, and an inspiring true tale, The Fighter has proven to be a heavyweight this awards season, and is a resilient show of strength that will be respected in the film world in the coming years.
OVERALL SCORE: 9/10