Boxing and films are not foreign to each other. From the artistic heights of Raging Bull to the cheesy yet awesome Rocky IV, boxing seems to be a curiously cinematic sport. The Fighter is the latest addition to this sub-genre.
Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a welterweight boxer who, though talented, has never reached the heights he should. He is seen as more of a stepping stone than a milestone. Trained by his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) and managed by his mother (Melissa Leo), it becomes apparent that they are holding him back from what he can truly be: a champion.
First and foremost this film is a family drama, as the true story realistically portrays the struggles Micky has with his family. While it could have been a trite melodrama, each and every actor acts their hearts out, transforming a relatively basic narrative into a great acting showcase. Theirs is a close-knit family, filled with promise and hope but struggling with their own petty habits and sins, making them easy to connect to as characters. The film avoids run of the mill stereotypes, instead favouring a strong sense of humanity. The praise for Christian Bale is not unfounded, as he doesn’t just act, but becomes Dicky, a former prize-fighter who threw it all away to crack addiction and crime, letting his brother down countless times. Losing weight to fit into the role and even shaving in a bald patch, he gives it more than it ever needed.
However, it would be wrong to discount Wahlberg as a signifcant factor. The Happening showed how wrong Wahlberg can be for a role, but in this film, his quiet reserve compared to the bombastic Bale and the impeccable Melissa Leo, is another strength to this film, working as a great counterbalance to the harsh reality that they face.
Most boxing films have a few small fights, culminating in an epic showdown at the end. But unlike them, The Fighter has boxing at every turn. Using a different type of camera that creates a ‘live’ footage effect, we feel we are actually experiencing the bouts. Wahlberg spent four years training up for this role and it has not been without reward: the sequences are entertaining, they are visceral and astounding, with handy action replays, like real sport events.
If there is anything to complain about in this film, it is that it ends abruptly. Although it is unsentimental throughout, The Fighter could have benefitted from a stronger conclusion. The script is a bit basic, but through David O. Russell’s direction, and great acting by the entire cast, it has been elevated to a sport classic.
Good: The great acting, and realistic boxing techique.
Bad: The script is a bit by-the-numbers.