Bare knuckles and raw emotions make this boxing film an upper-cut above the rest.
Bare knuckles and raw emotions make this boxing film
an upper-cut above the rest.
Boxing is a sport
that naturally lends itself to cinema. It is that mano et mano, one on one, two
men going hell for leather in a ring we all yearn to see. It ticks all the
boxes of narrative structure but as a result one boxing film is very much like
the one before it. You take your underdog guy, have him get beaten almost to
death and then watch as he rises, phoenix like from the ashes, to become the
champ. The Fighter, rather than shying away from these clichés, embraces
everything a film about boxing demands. Where it manages to rise above much of
the rest is through stunning performances and a family orientated story.
Micky Ward (Wahlberg) is an amateur boxer trying to
make his way to the big time. Managed by his dominating mother Alice (Leo) and coached by his elder brother
Dickie (Bale) he is going nowhere
fast. But after one brutal fight he is offered a chance to make a change if he
leaves the nest of his family. With a new girlfriend Charlene (Adams) encouraging him to do things for
himself Micky is torn between following his dream and remaining loyal to his
With its street
level settings and rough round the edges characters The Fighter is very much a
Good Will Hunting (1997) of a boxing movie. It shares a lot of the same
character traits and emotions of that film as well and as such sucks you into
this world. Micky is a good fighter, but he could be great. It is not his
talent holding him back but his family, who are all too happy to give him tough
fights, for big money, rather than see him progress and climb up the boxing
dominant mother makes Micky’s life harder. Played with Jack Russel like bark
and bite by Oscar winner Melissa Leo, Alice is granite through and through.
Still basking in the glories of her elder son Dickie’s claimed knock-down of
Sonny Liston in his one big fight, she does not realise Micky needs her
affection rather than her drive.
But, it is the
relationship between the two brothers that really sells the film. Dickie is a
shadow of the “Pride Of Lowell” that he once was. Now a crack addict, he
continually lets Micky down. Christian Bale has always been an actor to fully commit
to a role and here conjures a character so much larger than life you wonder if
he has taken it to all new heights of performance. However, it is when the
vulnerability in Dickie shows through that you care for him so deeply. The
climax of the film shows us the real Dickie Eklund and you realise that, if
anything, Bale was toning the role down. His wide-eyed glazed expression
completely belies the ball of boundless energy that Dickie projects.
Much of Bale’s
performance is made all the more brilliant by Wahlberg’s reserve. Indeed in his
Oscar acceptant speech Bale noted as much. The Fighter had been a pet project
for Wahlberg since 2005, so much so he never stopped training for the part from
then until shooting in 2009. As Micky he is fragile, an emotionally stunted
man, who desires to keep his family happy while carving his own way in the
world. By allowing the actors around him to be eccentric and wild Wahlberg
quietly draws us into Micky’s mind-set. He is in the eye of the storm, a serene
still in the blustering tornado that is his family.
should also go to Amy Adams who utterly dispels her normal apple-pie cute
routine for something altogether tougher and indeed sexier. As Charlene she is
biting yet comforting, dominant but always caring. Watching her throw down with
the witches’ coven that is Micky’s family is truly delightful.
Yes it falls into
certain sport movie pit-falls, there are montages and slow-mo punches, but it
rings true thanks to its huge warmth. With
the grit of Raging Bull (1980) and the heart of Rocky (1976), The Fighter more
than goes this distance to be a total knockout.