I've never been a fan of boxing films. Sorry, that's an understatement, let me rephrase. Boxing films bore me. They've just never interested me and I don't know why. It's not a hatred of the sport, even though I've never been that interested in that either, but the idea of a film about two guys punching each other just never grabbed me. And that's from a fan of WWE wrestling. To this day, I haven't seen a single Rocky film, and I gave up watching Raging Bull half an hour in. *cue cries of outrage* I know, this is certainly unacceptable since both are held in high regard and have become the benchmark for boxing films ever since.
Therefore when I saw “the best boxing movie since Rocky!” was being released at my nearest cinema, I wasn't that awe-struck. Then I noticed who was starring in The Fighter: Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. They had my attention. Checking the film's background, I read how Marky-Mark had put on a lot of weight for the role; as always, Bale had lost a lot of weight for the role; and the film was going to focus on their relationship and not the sport of boxing. With this new knowledge, along with my New Year's Resolution hanging over my shoulder, I made the decision it was worth a watch.
The Fighter tells the true story of brothers “Irish” Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Bale) and their struggle as they try to achieve glory. For Mickey, it's potential glory in the boxing world, but for Dicky, it's former glory as he wastes his life addicted to crack cocaine, trying to kick-start his failed boxing career. As Mickey trains and fights to become champion, he has to cope with personal troubles, embodied by his girlfriend (Amy Adams), his mother (Melissa Leo) and his numerous sisters as they all think they know what's best for him.
The story might be cliched, but this film is driven and held together by the magnificent performances from the entire cast. Bale, Adams and Leo deliver their characters perfectly and create a chaotic world around the otherwise calm Mickey. When it comes to roles like Dicky Eklund, “Ultimate Method Actor” Christian Bale is a safe bet to fully commit to the role and you can see him almost lose himself in the character. You don't really realise how spot on his performance is until the end credits, and you see the real life Ward brothers; it's as if the real life Dicky is imitating Bale's performance! Bale went on to win Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance, and both Adams and Leo got Oscar and BAFTA nominated, with Leo rightfully winning Best Supporting Actress. They capture the often cliched mother-in-law/girlfriend tension superbly as Leo feels Adams is stealing Mickey away from her.
Despite the supporting characters being pitch-perfect, this did bring a flaw to the film. Due to the extroverted characters around him, the self-titled “Fighter”, Mickey, was the least interesting character. He was the calm eye of the storm going on around him, but that resulted in more of the action and drama coming from Dicky's storyline of his drug addiction and imprisonment. I felt Wahlberg wasn't given enough material to let him shine as he did in The Departed and I (Heart) Huckabees.
At this point, I feel I must return to my original point from the start of this review. It is true that boxing as a sport doesn't interest me greatly. However, the boxing scenes in this film strangely did grab my attention and had me cheering towards the end of Mickey's journey. They were filmed very authentically, as if the audience is watching a gritty television pay-per-view in a downtown bar. I believe that's what let me get through this film in one piece. The boxing action takes backseat to the drama of the Ward family, and as one brother conquers his demons in the ring, the other conquers them outside the ring as well. The Fighter is more about retribution than boxing. I'm sure that's what people say about Rocky or Raging Bull, and I think The Fighter has shown me that I should maybe broaden my viewing horizons. …..Maybe.
Rating - 8/10