[Apologies for the massive influx of movie reviews but I’ve just got too many lined up — it’s the award season anyway, so why not?]
I saw an advanced screening of The Fighter a few weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to review it. Just as well, because I’ve allowed the film to sink in, allowing me to make up my mind that this is one of the greatest boxing movies ever.
I am quite well-acquainted with “Irish” Micky Ward, a professional boxer from Massachussets best known for his three epic brawls with the late Arturo Gatti, including a ridiculous round 9 in their first fight that has been called ‘The Round of the Century”. However, I didn’t know a whole lot about Ward’s background, and I knew almost nothing about his half-brother and fellow former pro boxer, Dicky Eklund, who once fought the great Sugar Ray Leonard.
As with most boxing films, The Fighter is a bit of an underdog story — and it’s one heck of an underdog story. Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) comes from a crazy ‘white trash’ family, with a drug addict brother Dicky (Christian Bale) who serves as his trainer and a controlling mother (Melissa Leo) as his manager. He’s what you might consider a journeyman boxer — someone with tremendous heart but not particularly gifted in the ring. The film follows a familiar trajectory as Ward goes from a down-and-out boxer to a rising star, but most of the drama revolves around Ward’s relationship with his family as well as the new girl in his life, barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), who threatens to tear his family apart.
Inside and outside the ring, The Fighter is intense, packed with emotion and turmoil, and ultimately inspirational and triumphant. It does take some liberties with the truth, as most ‘based on a true story’ movies do, but for the most part it is a pretty realistic portrayal. And since most of the characters in the film are still alive, the actors were able to study their real life counterparts closely, resulting in some amazing performances. Mark Walhberg gives perhaps the best effort of his career with a low-key, nuanced performance that holds the movie together and allows his co-stars to shine — and man they really do shine.
Christian Bale was simply phenomenal and I believe will add to his Golden Globe win with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (and in doing so establish himself as one of the best actors of this generation — I mean, name one other actor that can play Patrick Bateman, Batman, The Machinist, John Connor and Dicky Eklund?). Melissa Leo ousted Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes, but I would not be surprised if either won at the Oscars. Leo had the meatier role but Adams probably did more with what she was given as the feisty Charlene. Both were outstanding.
As for the boxing? Also some of the best, most realistic we’ve ever seen. Part of that is because Wahlberg physically looked like a boxer, having trained for this role for several years to replicate not only Ward’s body but also his fighting style. And apart from some real fight footage, director David O’Russell also did a fantastic job of imitating that slightly grainy TV feel and presentation, complete with authentic commentary. Apparently a lot of the fight scenes were also punch-for-punch lifted from Ward’s real life bouts. The action was therefore as close to real as we’ve ever seen on the big screen.
The only disappointment (not really a complaint) is that the film only followed Ward’s career up to a certain point in time, meaning that the epic Ward-Gatti trilogy become no more than a footnote. A shame because it would have been fantastic to see them try and duplicate those amazing fights. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the Gatti biopic.
At the end of the day, in my humble opinion, The Fighter is better than Ali, better than Cinderella Man, better than The Hurricane, better than any of the Rocky movies (which were, let’s face it, not the greatest films). I dare not throw Raging Bull into the equation because it’s considered an all-time great (regardless of genre) and Million Dollar Baby holds a special place in my heart — but The Fighter is the real deal. Whether in terms of the boxing action or the drama or the performances, this one is right up there in the pantheon of boxing films.
4.5 stars out of 5!
The Fighter commences across Australia tomorrow