Ex-boxer Dicky Ecklund has fallen spectacularly from grace and is now skinny, drawn and gaunt. In short he doesn’t appear like a boxer at all.
Nevertheless Dicky – now 40ish and balding a little – takes almost every opportunity to remind one and all of his former glories and how he laid out Sugar Ray Leonard, even if he ended up losing the fight and not taking the title. The other opportunities and moments are spent sourcing crack and co-habiting with similarly unreliable and disreputable “associates”.
Dicky thinks that the camera crew following he and half-brother Mickey Ward around are documenting his comeback and rise back to the big leagues, not the stuttering but promising career of younger Mickey.
The boy’s Mum Alice doesn’t help matters either, her every breath is spent reminiscing over Dicky’s past (near) glories and talking up his bright future, the fact that she is supposed to be Mickey’s present manager doesn’t come up much in conversation and apparently hardly dominates her thoughts either.
The Ward household is tight but perhaps not altogether focused or ideal. While Alice remains firmly in Dicky’s corner and half-arses Mickey’s career to the point that he nearly quits the game more than once, numerous skanky and opinionated sisters also hover in the wings like vultures criticising and judging, and while Dicky is allegedly Mickey’s trainer and team member only Mickey’s Father George Ward and local cop Mickey O’Keefe (hereafter referred to as O’Keefe, Mickey, Dicky and Mickey is just too much!) are truly behind Mickey’s career all the way, unfortunately they aren’t as opinionated or forceful with their opinions as Dicky and the Ward women.
Dicky seems to truly believe that big things are on the horizon for him even though he smokes, does drugs and revels in former glories (with stories and legends that may or may not even be accurate).
Every story and conversation inevitably comes back to him – often though at Alice’s doing – and Dicky delights in any and all attention and suggestion that he put Lowell, the working class Boston community in which they live, on the map.
Meanwhile Mickey trains, keeps his mouth shut and bides his time as poorly chosen opponents and the “wonderful, ethical world of boxing” conspires to see his career end without success or recognition.
That is until he meets Charlene, as with many of the women in this film Charlene is loud, profane and speaks her mind at all times – though in this case she is on Mickey’s side. Mickey has never had someone stick up for him so forcefully before, with both dad George and O’Keefe being meek… and often shouted over anyway.
On his first date with Charlene Mickey tries to impress and takes her to an art-house cinema, whereupon exiting Charlene complains that she “had to read the fuckin’ movie”. Mickey tells Charlene everything, that he has a young daughter (to an unco-operative and vindictive ex), and the story behind his repeated inability to break big in the boxing world.
Unfortunately it seems Mickey’s loving family has really been more hindrance than help, and his blind loyalty has only facilitated this drag on his momentum, Charlene immediately realises this and urges Mickey to take some action for himself.
Mickey is left with the choice of sticking with his family and perhaps settling for a dead-end career, or leaving them behind and having one real crack at the big time…
Of course those “loyal” to Mickey immediately seek to blame someone and come up with Charlene, who isn’t taking a backward step from anyone.
Then two things happen, Dicky has a run in with the law, and the documentary is eventually released. After this the tone of the film – and mood of the family – changes permanently.
Mark Wahlberg is fine as Mickey but he has little to do besides look buff and a little confused. Dicky (Christian Bale) and Alice (Melissa Leo) fare better, as being – let’s face it – pretty ordinary and self-centred human beings their roles are basically more interesting.
While Leo is fine and continually frustrating as Alice, Bale steals the film as the delusional Dicky, dining out on faded and often false recollections, and inhabiting a largely worthless existence and looking towards a future that cannot be. Bale again lost a bunch of weight in this film and once again pulls off yet another non-english accent effortlessly, while The Fighter might not have been a big challenge for him to me it is simply another example of why he is perhaps the best – and easily the most fearless – actor working in film today.
A new boxing movie is released every year or two and in every interview the actors invariably boast about the authenticity of the fighting sequences, how making it 100% realistic was just so important to them and how they took more than their fair share of real hits along the way during filming.
The Fighter is no mere Rocky or Cinderella Man clone, even though it has the similar theme as both: a tough young man in hard times struggling to make something of himself. There is only one brief training montage in the entire film, and even that isn’t given the luxury of a loud hair-metal ballad blaring in the background.
That said the fights in The Fighter are OK, but they lack the urgency and audience involvement of a Rocky film (I don’t how real Marky-Mark says they were or who and how they filmed them).
But in this case it hardly matters.
Believe it or not the success and quality of The Fighter has little to do with the fight scenes. Sure without the fight scenes this film likely wouldn’t have even been greenlit in the first place and as a result the drama elements of the story would never have been told, but without these dramatic elements and the story of both Dicky and Mickey driving the plot along, the fight scenes wouldn’t even matter and this would just be another meaningless fight flick.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Less a fight film with a few dramatic elements than a drama film with a few fights. The Fighter is an unexpected contender.