Take a second for me and think back on the highlight reel of your life. Picture all of your finest moments. Grasp with a white knuckle grip the way those victories filled your stomach with butterflies of self confidence. Now, shift that perception towards the way it felt when those moments were snatched away. Maybe it was a divorce from your high school sweetheart or a career ending baseball injury, but the odds are pretty good that something in your lifetime ended short of where you intended. Essentially, it is that gut wrenching feeling of loss that drives the movie The Fighter.
The story centers around Micky Ward’s (Mark Walhberg) path to the the title fight against Shea Neary. However, instead of solely focusing on the sporting aspects of the film, director David O. Russell captures portraits of supporting characters along the way, and the emotions and complications they experience while along for the ride. The prime example of this falls on the shoulder of Ward’s half-brother and trainer Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). With his career having peaked on July 18, 1978 in a fight against Sugar Ray Leonard, Eklund struggles through the film with delusions and complications from having to let go of his better days. This problem is furthered by the fact that even in loss, the match would serve as a spring board for Eklund to become a local legend in the Irish-American neighborhood he frequented in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Russell brings this point to a head multiple times throughout the masterpiece film. However, he hits the nail on the head by pointing out that even as HBO filmed a documentary on Eklund which followed the way crack can ruin your life, Eklund remained convinced the filming was set to celebrate his comeback.
Throughout the filming, Ward trained on, attempting to advance his struggling boxing career and escape Eklund’s looming shadow of success. This escape at times would serve impossible however, with his mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) serving as his manager. Her extreme inability to separate business from family coupled with her blind love for the troubled Eklund would severely roadblock Micky Ward’s path to success. Micky however, fails to confront these problems due to being raised in a family-first environment. It isn’t until local townie Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) points out his family’s shortcoming to Micky that he rights his ship and heads towards proper stardom. Scrapping his mom as his manager and his brother as a trainer, pieces begin falling into place and flowing like clockwork.
It’s these characters and their interactions with each other that make The Fighter special. The film takes an approach to film making not common in today’s market. They cast actors who play characters other than themselves. (Yes John Cusack, we’re looking at you.) Russell’s choice to keep Lowell, Massachusetts and the habitats from their trashy heritage leaves the film with a rich, no bullshit Irish-American feel. Camera tricks and special effects are left by the curb letting the characters themselves tell the story. When it all comes together, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bale, Leo and Adams all with Oscar nods.
However, in addition to the flawless casting and believable acting, Russell’s approach to the camera work is fantastic. The fights, which are purposely aimed to be reminiscent of those from the ’90s HBO era, close in tight on the fighters face and bodies. It feels like you’re right there in the ring, toe to toe with the athletes. Furthermore, the environments and interaction of Lowell are unpolished and as in your face as possible. Take for example Ward’s trashy sisters. With nasty, unwashed hair and salvation army wardrobes, they cling to their chain smoking, beer drinking skank mother’s over barring words for guidance throughout the film. When Charlene steps in and replaces the family as Ward’s number one role, they get catty, judging her for things like “going to college” and “being one of those MTV girls.” This depiction of lower class could not be more factual. It is because of these unpolished truths that I find myself hoping that The Fighter will be a heavy contender come Oscar time. It needs to be rewarded for taking the high road and not simply settling for being just another sports film.
I give The Fighter 5 out of 5 Boxing Gloves
by Joshua Hammond