The Fighter is such an incredible story that it feels like it was born out of some Hollywood producer’s dream, but director David O. Russell tells it with such gritty realism that you’ll never forget it’s true.
This is the tale of Massachusetts boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s unlikely rise from stepping stone to the top of the welterweight ranks. But with his crack-addled older brother, Dicky Eklund, as his trainer and his delusional leech of a mother as his manager, we can see that his toughest bouts were often fought outside the ring.
Nearly as remarkable is Mark Wahlberg’s five-year battle to get this film made. After Martin Scorsese turned down the opportunity to direct, considerable progress was made with Matt Damon and then Brad Pitt in the Dicky Eklund role with Darren Aronofsky attached to direct. These plans fell by the wayside with the 2007 writers’ strike, but Wahlberg persevered.
Christian Bale assumed the showy role of Eklund, “The Pride of Lowell,” still basking in the glory of his title shot against Sugar Ray Leonard fifteen years ago. He’s also, perhaps unknowingly, starring in an HBO documentary about crack addiction.
Bale underwent a massive physical transformation, which has become his trademark of sorts (see: The Machinist, Rescue Dawn). He has the once promising fighter’s mannerisms down perfectly, and actually had to tone down Eklund’s often incomprehensible jabber for the viewers’ sake.
Ward’s seven sisters are so trashy they make the Jersey Shore crew look like the Royal Family. Ironically enough, they call Micky’s new girlfriend (the transcendent Amy Adams) an “MTV Girl,” implying she’s a raging slut when they’re really just jealous she went to college. Having once blown her chance at a great opportunity, the sassy bartender doesn’t want to see Micky’s pass him by and stands up to Micky’s mother (Melissa Leo).
Though its outcome is as predicable as they come, The Fighter still hits you where it counts with masterful storytelling and exceptional performances. You become so emotionally invested in these characters that by the time you reach the climax, your heart feels like it’s going to jump out of your chest.
The boxing scenes are exhilarating, filmed as if we’re watching them live on HBO. Credit for this authenticity should also go to Wahlberg, who trained for four years in his basement boxing ring in an effort to look like a fighter who could win the world title. Micky Ward is a personal hero of Wahlberg’s, and the star/producer triumphs with performance and film that does Ward’s story justice.
I can’t remember the last time I was this moved by a motion picture. I’d immediately going to throw The Fighter into the mix for best boxing movie of all time. Hell, I’d give it a shot at the title.