A lot has already been written about The Fighter, with some calling it the greatest sports film since Raging Bull, but is it deserving of such high praise? As it reaches our shores the film has already swept up two golden globes and numerous other trophies, predominantly for the performances of its two stars, Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. The Fighter is based on the true story of boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward, played by Wahlberg. Micky is a down on his luck never-was, managed by his pushy mother and brother Dickie, played by Bale. Fifteen years ago Dickie had been a promising fighter, but a decade long addiction to crack has killed any promise he ever had, and now his lifestyle runs the risk of destroying his brother’s chances of reaching the big time as well. As Dickie falls deeper into a world of addiction and crime, Micky is forced to decide what is more important to him, family or his career.
There can be no doubt that any film that deals with boxing has the shadows of Jake La Motta and Rocky Balboa looming large over it, and this is true in the case of The Fighter. Like Rocky it is a story about a working class hero’s desire to overcome the odds, and like Raging Bull it features a boxer’s epic fall from grace and the destruction of a family as a result of it. But The Fighter has a naturalistic indie feel to it in style, script, and delivery that makes it feel gritty, fresh, and real. Director David O. Russell resists using Scorsese’s visual dramatics, shooting the fights in a broadcast style reminiscent of the coverage of early nineties boxing. Only once does he resort to a slow motion, Raging Bull style in ring montage. But what truly sets this film apart is its story about two brothers each with their own battle to fight. It is the drama that occurs outside of the ring, particularly Dickie’s battle with his demons, that makes The Fighter so engrossing.
It is ironic that in the film Micky feels over shadowed by Dickie as Bale’s performance greatly outweighs Wahlberg’s. Although Wahlberg is sympathetic as Micky, it is Bale who steals the show. He is incredibly believable as Dickie and gives his most compelling performance since The Machinist. The film also features notable performances from Amy Adams and Melissa Leo as Micky’s mother and girlfriend, it’s interesting to see a sports film with strong and well rounded female characters as they are normally painfully absent from the testosterone driven genre. For the most part The Fighter is an enjoyable film and even the most cynical of viewers will find themselves cheering Micky on in the final fight. Whilst it may be true that Micky Ward and his troubled brother won’t become cinematic icons like Jake La Motta or Rocky Balboa, their story is one of hope and redemption that even the most avid sportaphobe can enjoy.
Review by Elliot Hyams