Written by: Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Scott Silver
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Frank Renzulli
Family members bound by blood may carry more love for a particular person than anyone else but at times it does not mix well with business. Two different mindsets need to exist when operating on the business and the familial side that can create a negative combination moving forward, which gets right at the heart of the story of The Fighter. Once the shackles get broken, it allows for a thorough examination all wrapped into a boxing movie.
Never the champion and considered a stepping stone for other fighters, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is managed as a boxer by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) and trained by his brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Following a fight Micky had no business being in, he begins to recognize the struggles of being managed by his family, especially after presented with different opinions for the first time.
Based on the true story of two brothers, The Fighter highlights the trouble of being a middle child essentially. With a decent age gap between them, Micky grew up watching Dicky succeeding as a boxer, even to the point where he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight. A particular reverence always exists with Dicky in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts where they reside. He put the city on the map with his boxing presence and remains a celebrity even with his addiction to crack cocaine. Even with all of the horrible things Dicky does, he always gets a pass for it because of what he has done, especially by his mother, Alice. It gets egregious just how much pandering can be done to excuse Dicky’s behavior and only after a specific boiling point does Micky realize he can no longer ignore the reality of the situation.
Living under Dicky’s shadow his entire life, Micky gets the opportunity to shine without his family, who have frankly mismanaged him. Getting him into mismatched fights and not always looking out for his best interests, The Fighter lays out the trouble of mixing family and business. Objective decision making remains of utmost respect in the business world, which can never healthily coincide with family members involved. Personal feelings get intermingled, which could make a disagreement into a family argument about being ungrateful. This happens all of the time in the sports and show business and the level of toxicity brewing in this feature reaches an absurd degree.
With the boxing scenes shot in a fairly pedestrian manner, the main showcase of this feature comes from its cast, who really brought it with their performances. This film could have reached a much higher echelon of quality if not for its leading actor being the weakest performance. With Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo delivering stellar work, it made it painfully obvious they were acting circles around Mark Wahlberg. He does his typical schtick in this role and makes the case for why he got cast to portray Micky but when he acts opposite either Adams or Bale, the disparity becomes quite jarring.
As the king of body transformation, Christian Bale won his Academy Award for this role and with good reason. Ge lost 63 pounds for it and truly captures what makes Dicky someone others would gravitate towards but also the precipitous decline he has in both physical and mental health. Looking dangerously thin due to drug use, Bale goes all in with this character to truly nail the type of performance that became necessary. With the end of the feature showing real footage of the brotherly duo, Dicky Eklund looks like quite the personality and shows Bale did not ham it up with this performance and only demonstrates how well he portrayed this man. The other standout unsurprisingly proved to be Amy Adams, as she evokes a level of sadness behind her eyes with the character of Charlene. She begins to open Micky’s eyes about the negligence of his family but has her own issues to work through. This comes as an instance of an actor providing more than what the screenplay provides, but it’s to be expected with someone with the caliber of talent Adams has.
With it being shot on location, this film goes to great lengths in being authentic to the real people involved, especially since all parties are still alive. From the accent on display to the area, nothing about this movie sought to be over the top even if it appears to be the opposite at times. It explains why the boxing sequences do not have much style or slickness to them seeing as the production value of the real fights did not have the flash either. Admirable to see the relational dynamics taking center stage rather than the boxing matches themselves.
While never going in an unexpected direction, The Fighter follows all of the successful tropes of a boxing movie while also using a real story as its foundation. It speaks on the issues of mixing family and business in a way where it can be detrimental and one-sided while also bringing together some electric acting by the ensemble cast. For better or worse, the circumstances played out in this manner, which makes for a messy but wonderfully entertaining film.