Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Boxing movies, indeed most sports movies in general, tend to follow a particular tried and true pattern (with Raging Bull being the notable exception) which audiences can’t help but embrace – the underdog story. Typically it’s a rags-to-riches tale of a down-and-out fighter overcoming overwhelming odds to make a better life for themselves, and just maybe offer inspiration to the masses along the way. Who doesn’t love a tale of hope right?
Numerous films centred on the sweet science such as Rocky and Million Dollar Baby have used just that formula, as cliché as it is, to craft very powerful narratives. The punches are telegraphed from a mile away, but when it hits you, you’d have to be a heartless shrew not to feel the impact, that swell of triumph and emotion. Now I’m not claiming that The Fighter is as outstanding as its abovementioned counterparts, but it’s certainly a contender.
Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale) are a pair of pugilists bonded by blood (they’re half-brothers) but couldn’t be any more different in terms of personality or fighting style. Micky is timid and straightforward while Dicky is charismatic and squirrely.
While Dicky’s once promising fight career (he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978) has long ago been derailed by drug addiction and other personal demons, now it’s his younger sibling’s time to be shine. Coming off a demoralising four fight losing streak, Micky has to make radical changes in order to salvage his livelihood. More than any of his brawls in the ring, this emotional struggle between family and professionalism forms the real conflict of The Fighter.
In the red corner is his mother/manager Alice (Mellissa Leo) and brother/trainer Dicky. Dicky has a great brain for the game and is much more ring-savvy than Micky. Unfortunately, he is infuriatingly unreliable, as most junkies tend to be. As for Alice, you get a sense that while she truly loves her son, she does see him as somewhat of a meal ticket as well.
In the blue corner is Micky’s girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), who urges him to steer clear of his family’s misguided influences. She’s gorgeous and unendingly supportive but is sadly naive in the ways of the sport. It becomes clear that Micky needs both sides in his life to succeed but the tug-of-war puts him through an emotional wringer.
Despite the fact that seeing Wahlberg punch always reminds me of the ‘Good Vibrations’ music video, he is admittedly perfect for this role. Micky is constantly overwhelmed by the more forceful personalities around him (Bale, Leo and Adams are as imposing as they come) so Wahlberg’s lack of cinematic presence comes as a benefit. Amy Adams deserves a whole lot of props as well for breaking her pretty princess mould to pull off a performance as grimy as this.
The real standout of the piece however is Christian Bale’s jaw-dropping transformation into Dicky. Bale looks gaunt and sickly, a scarily realistic mimicry of a crackhead. More impressive than his Machinst-esque metamorphosis is the way he adopts Dicky’s fidgety mannerisms. There’s a clip of the real Dicky Ecklund at the end of the movie that proves that Bale’s method-acting and scenery-chewing interpretation is more than spot-on.
What makes The Fighter able to transcend the clichés is director David O Russell’s commitment to authenticity. Old-school betamax cameras were utilised and production even went to the trouble of hiring the same television crew from the original bouts to recreate and choreograph the fights as faithfully as possible.
As any boxing fan knows, the details of Micky Ward’s life as presented here are hardly embellished and Russell underlines that immersing you in its realism, as if to point out – hey, fairy tales do happen.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini is 24-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.