Boxing movies have become so commonplace in Hollywood that it’s hard to do anything original with them since we all know how they’re going to turn out. Boxer shows promise, boxer suffers hard times, boxer works his way back to be champion. Every boxing movie follows that path, but no matter how many times we see it, we can’t help but stand up and cheer when the boxer inevitably wins. But to be special, the boxing movie has to do something different. It has to add an element into the story that connects with the audience on a non-boxing level and then establish characters that the audience truly cares about. That’s exactly what THE FIGHTER did and why it is such a powerful film.
You’ve seen the previews that show a shirtless Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward dancing in the ring, so you might think this film is all about Micky and his fights. But what this film is really about is his brother, Dicky Eklund; a strung out former boxer that is ruining the lives of everyone around him and how that effects the relationship between him and Micky. And what you may also not realize is that Christian Bale turns in one of the greatest performances of the year and makes himself unrecognizable as Dicky. From the unhealthy weight loss to the vernacular, to the mannerisms Bale took on, his performance is breathtaking and he alone turns this boxing movie into so much more. It’s hard to believe this same guy can play the confident, stoic Bruce Wayne just as well.
The underlying theme in THE FIGHTER is that family can hold you down, but they can also pick you back up. It’s a fine line and one that Micky Ward has to find. As a struggling boxer that’s being taken advantage of by his family, he turns his back on them and seeks comfort in the arms of a new trainer and a new lover, Charlene, played wonderfully by Amy Adams. Adams actually made me believe she could beat me up and drink me under the table – a far cry from her Disney princess role. But when things get tough for Micky, he needs his family as much as they need him. Director David O. Russell did a great job of portraying Micky’s family as ignorant white trash, but the challenge was to make the audience forgive them at the same time Micky was able to. He was successful, but that was no easy task given who we were dealing with.
ROCKY comparisons are inevitable given that Micky was a struggling white boxer from Philadelphia that got his title shot by chance, but other than that and a few boxing strategies, this film has very little to do with the boxing movies that came before it. By shifting the focus between Dicky’s drug problems and Micky’s relationship with his family, Russell established characters that we could all relate to and the addition of boxing just heightened the experience. THE FIGHTER is a fine film that has breathed life into a worn out movie genre and one that solidified Bale as one of the best actors of our generation.