There are some stories which are told over and over again and never really get old. Of these, one of the most perennial in film is the underdog sports story, or, more specifically, the boxing drama. The Fighter, the latest entry in the genre, tells a tale which, although predictable and not particularly original, as a whole works quite nicely.
The story revolves around the boxer Mickey Ward during the years 1993-2000. Focusing on this time in Ward’s life was an interesting choice for director David Russell to make; in real life, Ward’s greatest and most famous fight took place as a three-part match up with Arturo Gatti some time after the events of The Fighter. Russell’s decision to cut this episode demonstrates his desire to make The Fighter more about the boxer than the boxing. It was a good decision, as Ward’s life outside the ring is far more interesting than his life in it.
Yes, this is Batman.
Living in the small, working-class town of Lowell, Massachusetts with his father George, mother Alice, seven sisters, and brother Dickie, Ward has a lot more than just practicing his jabs and uppercuts on his mind. Maintaining a proper relationship with family while keeping up with a professional sports career is shown to be a struggle. His mother is an over-loving, over-protective mother whose management of her son’s career is well-intentioned but not the most successful. Early on in The Fighter she books a fight between Ward and a man twenty pounds heavier than he is. But it’s Ward’s brother Dickie who must really be contended with. Dickie is a local legend, the “Pride of Lowell” known for once knocking down the great Sugar Ray Leonard. Charismatic, exuberant, semi-narcissistic, outspoken, and addicted to crack, Dickie is truly a fascinating character to watch. He is a study in contradictions: incredibly family oriented and yet self absorbed, popular and yet avoided by those wishing to steer clear of trouble, and trying to cope with serious life problems yet still holding onto the fantasy of reentering the boxing ring and jump-starting his career. For Ward, training under his brother at the same time as trying to get out from under his brother’s shadow is a difficult task. Ward comes full-circle throughout the film, at first attempting to pursue his career without the aid (or interference) of his relatives only to welcome them back later on. All of this drama plays out alongside the ring with the latter part being important but not as thoroughly emphasized.
What makes The Fighter truly shine is the acting within. Watching the Ward family on screen feels real, as if you were stepping for a brief time into their little world. During the credits there is a short clip of the real Mickey and Dickie Ward, and it’s almost disconcerting how spot on Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale’s portrayals of the duo are. Wahlberg admits to having worked secretly for years on this project, having trained personally with famous boxers such as Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao and studying and befriending the real Mickey Ward. Bale, always a good actor, goes above and beyond his previous work to deliver what is easily the finest performance in The Fighter, and quite possibly a performance worthy of some major recognition come awards season.
The Fighter will not surprise anyone. There is nothing in this story which has not been seen before. And yet, it doesn’t really matter. It’s sometimes true what they say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Overall Rating: Like
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