Although I’m a knowledgeable sports fan, I entered the Dayton Mall theatre knowing little to nothing about the life of working class boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). I assumed, though, that as a boxing movie, “The Fighter” was most likely about a lovable, down and out boxer who improbably seized a fluke opportunity to realize his dream of becoming world champ. The fact that this assumption turned out to be accurate did not make “The Fighter” any less enjoyable.
I’d imagine that this was a passable plot line in the eyes of Paramount execs despite the predictability and commonality of it (“Rocky,” “Cinderella Man,” “Million Dollar Baby”) because, you know, it actually happened and it’s a good story. What stands out about “The Fighter” in comparison to other boxing movies are the authenticity of the fight scenes and Micky’s comically destructive family, who, despite their good intentions, almost seem to be actively trying to keep him from any sort of success. At the forefront is Dicky, a former promising boxer turned crack addict who unsurprisingly can’t figure out how to balance crack addiction and helping Micky realize his own unfulfilled dreams. Christian Bale absolutely kills it as Dicky Eklund; shedding his celebrity in a scene-stealing supportive role.
Had I not seen Wahlberg explain the process of shooting the fight scenes while being interviewed on Conan, “We beat the crap out of each other,” I wouldn’t have known how they captured such realistic landed punches. I watched clips of a number of Micky Ward’s actual fights and was not surprised to see that the fight scenes from “The Fighter” looked like shot for shot remakes of the real thing. Wahlberg completely avoids the clumsy actor portraying a fluid athlete problem that is often a distraction in sports movies. DiCaprio in “Basketball Diaries” and Tom Berenger in “Major League” come to mind.
In most boxing movies I’ve seen, I find myself impatiently waiting for the next fight scene. In “The Fighter” the fight scenes are exciting, impeccably done and there are actually relatively few of them, but the excitement and anticipation of the fights does not overshadow the surrounding story. The absurdity of Micky’s family – from Dicky’s antics, to their overprotective, maniacally controlling mother (Melissa Leo),
to his seven sisters blindly serving the will of their mom – speak to the unlikeliness of Micky’s success in the ring and encourage the audience to be personally invested in the outcome of the fights.
As much as I enjoyed “The Fighter,” I was disappointed by the ending. The obligatory biographical movie ending – white text on black background explaining Micky’s life after movie – was fine with me, but seeing merely in text that he went on to have his most memorable, brutal fights against all time great Arturo Gatti left me thinking, “Really? What the hell? Show me THAT!” Fortunately, the fight scenes and the acting performances, especially Bale’s, more than make up for the feelings of unfulfillment the ending leaves with the audience and make “The Fighter” well worth a watch.