Movie Review for The Fighter

Domestic Slugfest

The Fighter

Drama, Sports | PG | 1 hr 55 min
Pioneer Films
The language of the underdog sports movie had more or less been written in stone. Rocky set the template for practically every movie that followed, taking a down on his luck, big-hearted athlete on the path to eventual victory. Few movies have strayed from this path, leaving the genre a little stale. But The Fighter looks at a much bigger picture than the average sports film. It shows us that sometimes, heart and hard work might not be enough to win championships. Sometimes, family can get in the way.

The film is based on the story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). Years ago, his brother Dick Eklund (Christian Bale) was a promising boxer who eventually lost to Sugar Ray Leonard. Since then, Dicky has been training his younger brother, all the while drowning his sorrows in crack. Dicky's bad behavior threatens to bring Micky down, his spiral of self-destruction drawing on everything around him. Micky is forced to make a tough decision: to cut out his brother from his life, or to give up boxing all together.

Sports movie tend to be filled with idealized characters. They may be down in their luck, but they're supposed to be good people at heart. What separates The Fighter from your average underdog sports movie is that it's populated by really fragile, dangerously abrasive people. The film portrays far more complex relationships, acknowledging that people can be broken and foolish and scarily imperfect. And so, Micky's mother Alice might mean well, but she's actually a terrible person. Even the girl that's supposed to be bringing change into Micky's life is prone to violent outbursts, and makes choices that definitely don't help him out.

The boxing actually takes a bit of a back seat to the family drama. This film isn't just about the redemption of one fighter. It seeks to redeem an entire family, perhaps the entire town of Lowell Massachusetts. The film shows us a side of boxing out of step with the typical heroic imagery associated with the sport. Micky Ward takes his hits, and his comebacks feel like they could have just been lucky shots. But that he makes it to the ring at all, with the volatile environment before sprang from, is somewhat of an achievement in itself.

The film peters out in the last third or so, when the more typical sports movie elements come to assert themselves. But much of it is elevated by genuinely great performances. Christian Bale has been in sort of an acting slump ever since he did Batman. This film brings him back to his method acting roots, and it's a welcome return. Mark Wahlberg can be a pretty limited actor, but he's at his best when he plays someone who can't quite get out what he wants to say. Melissa Leo thunders in with a truly smashing performance. She plays Alice Ward with a complete lack of vanity, letting the well-intentioned ugliness come out in full force. Amy Adams memorably plays against type, showing off the versatility that we all knew she had.

The Fighter is a film that grows from the periphery. Its best moments have nothing to do with winning a championship belt. In these moments, Micky Ward is fighting a very different kind of fight. He watches as the people around him, people that he loves drag and pull his life down a spiral. And he holds on, hoping that everything will turn out all right. For all the thrills of boxing, the drama that The Fighter portrays might be infinitely more satisfying.

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PG | 1 hr 55 min
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