116 Min. | Biography – Drama – Sport | February 2010
IMDB Rating: 7.9
Director: David O. Russell
Staring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
The Fighter Review: When it comes to winning awards, boxing films seem to always be contenders, as such, the thought of watching “another boxing film” can be off-putting. But “The Fighter” hangs in and fends off those labels, earning every bit of its critical praise. That’s because most of the fighting in this film takes place out of the ring, “Irish” Micky Ward spars with the troublesome brother who trains him and his mother who manages him and these superb supporting characters have their own challengers to overcome. David O. Russell brings a needed dose of realism to the boxing genre, downplaying the underdog nature of Micky’s true story and focusing on the relationships that push him through and hold him back all throughout his journey toward the welterweight title. Much of the time, in fact, the story feels equally Micky’s and his brother’s. Dickie Eklund, as beat over our heads early in the film, went ten rounds with Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him down, becoming the pride of small working-class town Lowell, Mass. — which as one might imagine, wasn’t hard.
But Dickie, an off-kilter, fun-loving yet irresponsible guy, spends the time he’s not training Micky in crack houses. In fact, he’s completely oblivious to the fact that HBO is following him around for their documentary on crack abuse, not one about his “comeback.” It’s clear that his behavior is keeping Micky, whose had a string of bad losses of late, down. After an embarrassing fight in which Micky was mismatched, Micky suddenly finds himself wondering whether he should keep his boxing career and family separate. The idea of it irritates Micky’s mother Alice, played by Melissa Leo, who impressively embodies every controlling mother. Alice sits in her house most days and smokes cigarettes while her seven grown daughters pathetically vie for her attention. Leo keeps Alice from being an aggravating total monster, providing a more complete picture of a mother whose blurred the line between business and family.
The fights, though effective, remain secondary to the other “fighting.” Watching Dickie spiral downward and come back up again, Alice have trouble letting go and Micky struggle to speak up for himself and recognize what he truly needs serves as the more compelling conflict. All together, they give “The Fighter” the best ensemble cast of 2010. And like all great boxing films, all these tensions blow in and out make their way symbolically into the boxing ring for that final fight. As Dickie urges on his brother in the waning rounds of the championship fight, he captures it perfectly when he says “everything that’s happened, take that out there with you.” The emotional moments of “The Fighter” do lack a real knockout and many intimate moments are tempered with humor in awkward but not scene-ruining ways, but rather than be a heavyweight drama that rides the underdog story for two hours, “The Fighter” opts to be something a bit more natural by fixing on the right things: the people and the personal relationships that hurt or harm us, are all essential to our success.