Fighter Needs a New Home

Movie Reviews: The Fighter (2010)
Spoilers: none


The Fighter, starring Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, and Amy Adams, is based on the true story of Welterweight boxers Dicky Eklund (Bale) and his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Wahlberg). The events take place in 1993 as we start off with an HBO documentary being made of Dicky’s esteemed history as an accomplished boxer-turned-trainer of Micky, who first presents himself to us down in the dumps in a losing streak, with the added pain of knowing he fails to live up to the reputation of his older brother, “the pride of Lowell” (Massachusetts).

Micky meets a barmaid named Charlene (Adams) who quickly serves to shift the film's focus, as it soon leaves Dicky and comes to hone in on Micky, the conflicted fighter whose obstacles come at him from different directions, the chief of them being a haughty and highly dysfunctional family.

The boys' “pants-wearing” mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) seems to fill the role of manager to the boys and straight-up convinces herself she is looking out for the family and Micky’s success equally. The family boasts in looking out for one another. They stay close, heavily smoking while sitting on the couch, verbally at each others' throats in arguments half the time, that they – and they alone – are privileged to engage in. They line up fights for Micky, who wants badly to make a name for himself like his brother, whose shadow he can never step out from (nor can he even find the strength to want to).

Dicky's crowning achievement was going toe-to-toe with the sensational Sugar Ray Leonard and only losing by decision in the highly publicized 1978 match. He’s a dedicated fighter, Dicky is, but not so dedicated at helping his brother train to achieve his dreams—not with an emaciating, self-destructive crack addiction that gets in the way and was what the HBO documentary was really intended to be about (much to Dicky's chagrin). Micky is beaten down by what becomes evident to viewers early on, which is that his family doesn’t look out for “little brother” like they claim to.

The Fighter is graced with many personalities, but not many personality contrasts. Wahlberg’s personality, when contrasted with those of his family, is not as easy to feel for as the viewer would like, which is to say, he’s not all that likable. His blank expressions and constant internalization of grievances minimizes the impact of a family that is an obvious burden instead of a blessing to him—a family that has the same disarming closeness of any in-laws you speak peacefully to and care for, but would secretly rather eat road-kill than be around for long.

Micky’s girlfriend is a meticulous bore, amplifying his own internal struggles with a flat-lining, negative personality that only serves as a compliment to his in that she is outspoken and eager to express what he would just as soon not talk about. Picking “cat fights” with Micky's mother and seven sisters, Micky is damn lucky to have Charlene on his side. But the family is not the only observation to highlight.

The abbreviated fight scenes, hastily created in efforts to rush back to the angering family drama, are almost a let-down when compared to the fights we knew from Rocky, which exhibited the awe-inspiring habit of pulling out the round-by-round intensity of the brawls, only abbreviating when necessary between groupings of rounds. This explosively detailed story, more concerned with sibling sass, pressure-cooker family dynamics, smart-ass remarks, and passive-aggressive retorts could have used a little more "boy’s locker room" bite.

But do not doubt for a moment that The Fighter is as fine of a movie as you’ll find among the greats of any given year. It reminded me of 2008's The Wrestler in more than a few ways. It is superbly acted, the behavioral posturing is absolutely excellent, and with as real-to-life dialog as you’ll find in any conversation you’ve ever had among family or friends. In this regard, you couldn’t hope to improve upon it. But in its cautiousness to stay clear of cliché and keep the pipeline full of close-to-home conflict, the emotional, soul-rending impact is lessened a bit, keeping its audience from being fully immersed in a story that could have shined even brighter than it does.



Grade: A+ (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for language throughout, drug content, some violence, and sexuality)
Director: David O. Russell
Summary: A look at the early years of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg "Micky Ward," Christian Bale "Dicky Eklund," Amy Adams "Charlene Fleming," Melissa Leo "Alice Ward," Micky O'Keefe "Himself," Jack McGee "George Ward"
Genre: Biography / Drama / Sport / Boxing