Published: 3 February, 2011
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by David O Russell
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
BOXING movies have to punch above their weight to make the viewer sit up and take notice.
After all, they wobble along on similar plot lines: down-at-heel boy becomes promising fighter, has various issues to overcome to do with management, family, background, goes into set-piece fight, takes a beating but somehow pulls an unlikely comeback.
The Fighter, which tells the true story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, has all the boxes to tick. But because of powerful performances and an enjoyable script, this movie is a good workout.
The Jewish Museum in Camden Town once had a boxing exhibition that traced the role the sport has played in immigrant communities. When Jewish people fled pogroms at the end of the Victorian period and into the 20th century, boys were encouraged to take up boxing to help defend themselves from anti-Semitism. It was also a means for working-class men to make some money, keep fit, and have a sense of community based around a tough training regime. The exhibition showed how the same experience was had by Caribbean, Irish, Romany and Asian immigrants into Britain. The fight game became a way out, a way of earning respect, and a way of making money.
This film focuses on the same American experience – namely, poverty as a driving force to creating an athlete who can hold his own in the ring.
“Irish” Mickey (Mark Wahlberg) and his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) are both boxers, one washed up and living on past laurels, the other trying hard not to go the same way as his older bro. Dicky’s career saw him fight Sugar Ray Leonard – but at the tender age of 23, drugs and booze captured Dicky, and he served time in prison. Mickey continued to fight, and, after a series of problems – many stemming from the input his large family had on his career – he got back on track and had a crack at big, big fights. To reveal much more will ruin the story.
While with films such as Raging Bull and Rocky you have to wince from the sheer macho overload, and the ending is telegraphed far ahead, this is excellent.
The Ward family – Mickey has seven sisters who spend their time squished onto a three-seater sofa – provide a laugh for the viewer. We are invited to poke fun at this white-trash family, with their awful hairstyles and tough-as-boots matriarch. But don’t let this Shameless-style inverted snobbery detract from the tale.
Bale and Wahlberg, along with Amy Adams as Mickey’s girlfriend, put in heavyweight performances.