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Movie Review: The Fighter – Boxing And Skewed Family Dynamics

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The Fighter (2010) is a boxing movie. That means you will be seeing some blood and some violence and some rope jumping and sparring. The more unexpected part of the film is that so much time is spent on the family dynamics between the lead character Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his seven sisters, his manager/mother Alice (Melissa Leo), and his drug-addled trainer/brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The relationship between Micky and Dicky is fascinating, to say the least. Based on the true story of the welterweight fighter Micky Ward’s life, this is a story more about overcoming difficult circumstance and seeing at which point loyalty stops being admirable and starts becoming a burden.

Dicky Eklund squandered his potential as a boxer through hard living and drugs. As we enter the story we are shown how Micky and Dicky walk down the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, where they are obviously well-known. They are being trailed by a camera crew that Dicky insists is there to show his come-back to boxing, when in reality the cameras are there to capture the life of a crack addict for HBO. The documentary exists, by the way. It’s called “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell” (1995). The brothers are treated like local legends, like kings of the street. There’s a little mockery thrown in there, but it’s mostly good natured. Dicky, for all of how much he brags about once knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard, is more infamous than famous at this point.

Micky’s career is handled by his mother and that’s interesting for a lot of reasons, and there’s something there that subtly hints at a family dynamic of epic Classical Greek tragedy proportions. The fact that Micky loses several of the fights we are shown early in the movie due to bad decisions made by Micky’s mother and brother lead up to the inevitable break from the family. Dicky, meanwhile, gets into more trouble than he can handle when he tries to raise money for Micky to be able to train full time. Being that Dicky’s logic circuits are more than a little impaired due to all the crack he’s smoking, he goes about all that backwards, exhorting money and getting into a fight with the police that actually lands him in jail.

Micky meets the bartender Charlene (Amy Adams) and she points out that the management Micky’s been under doesn’t seem to be doing him any favours. At this point Dicky is in jail doing time for various misdemeanours and Micky actually listens to those around him who tell him it might be time for him to distance himself a little from his family to further his career. Eventually Dicky does come out of prison, clean and sober, and he gets involved in Micky’s training again, basically because Micky wants him to.

The actual boxing scenes are shot with the TV-cameras used at the time and that does give them some extra authenticity, this is a cinematic language you understand, if you’ve ever watched boxing. And, unlike other boxing movies, this has a sense of realism to it in little things, like the fact that you can actually knock your opponent out with a body shot. Also, the level of punishment Micky Ward takes in any given fight is astounding, to say the least. And true to life, which is what makes this worth my while. Any victory Micky has is eked out the hard way.

There is plenty of character driven humour in this, which is not all that surprising given the family the movie deals with. The seven sisters who line up and glare disapprovingly at Micky’s new girlfriend, the fact that Dicky thinks he can escape his mother’s notice by throwing himself out of the same second story window of the crack house where he hangs out, the poor harassed father Jack Ward (Jack McGee) who has to wrangle all those women… they all provide moments of some much needed levity, but you won’t end up laughing at them. The comedy is more subtle than that.

Christian Bale is the obvious scene-stealer here. He is doing a truly awesome job with a character that could easily have been simply annoying. You find yourself liking Dicky, sometimes despite himself. Mark Wahlberg’s Micky is the perfect foil for Dicky’s extreme extrovert. Where Dicky is loud, Micky is quiet and restrained. Other reviews make a huge point of Bale’s transformation, but overlook the fact that Wahlberg is thoroughly believable as a professional boxer, and a rightey, at that, when Wahlberg himself is a southpaw. He carries himself like a boxer in an out of the ring, which is no small feat.

What stays with you when you leave the theatre is the Ward/Eklund family and the excellent portrayals of the dynamic and the visceral quality of the actual fights as well as the warmth and humour that bleeds through the actions of the main characters. It is well worth watching for anyone who is the least bit interested in boxing and who doesn’t mind rooting for the underdog.

The Fighter (2010) directed by David O. Russel stars Mark Wahlberg (Micky Ward), Christian Bale (Dicky Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene Fleming), Melissa Leo (Alice Ward), Mickey O’Keefe (himself), Jack McGee (George Ward), Melissa McMeekin (‘Little Alice’ Eklund), Bianca Hunter (Cathy Eklund), Erica McDermott (Cindy Eklund), Jill Quigg (Donna Eklund Jaynes), Dendrie Taylor (Gail Eklund), Kate B. O’Brien (Phyllis Eklund), Jenna Lamia (Sherri Ward), Frank Renazulli (Sal Lanano), Chanry Sok (Karen) and Caitlin Dwyer (Kasie Ward).

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