Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by:Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O’Keefe, Jack McGee
Released: January 20, 2011
Grade: A-

The Fighter is based on the true life story of Micky Ward (Whalberg).  The film opens in 1993 with Micky preparing for a fight in Las Vegas.  Coming off a string of losses, he sees it as a chance to get back on track.  He can use the cash to move into a bigger apartment and try to get custody of his young daughter (who is living with his ex wife).

Things didn’t go to plan.  Micky’s opponent withdrew prior to the fight due to illness and a last minute replacement was found.  Mike Mungin weighed a lot more than Micky but apparently he was some ex-con who had “just got off the couch”.  That was not the case.  Micky was slaughtered in the bout.  With a stitched up face and a wounded pride, he returned to his home in Massachusetts and starting looking for a new career path.

As we quickly learn, Micky’s problems aren’t due to a lack of talent.  It’s his family that are dragging him down.  The two people central to this destruction are his mother, Alice (Leo), and his older brother and coach, Dickie (Bale).

I can best describe Alice as a domineering matriarch.  She reminded me a little of Jackie Weaver’s character in Animal Kingdom.  Alice has everyone in the family on a string.  She’s been Micky’s manager since he started boxing and she seems to be more interested in her own reputation than that of her son.

Dickie was once a promising boxer himself but he’s now turned to a world of drugs.  A film crew are putting together a documentary on his addiction and his downward spiral.  I was puzzled as to why he would let them film him but I quickly realised that Dickie didn’t know what was going on around him.  He was a mess.

The spark that reignites Micky’s life is a feisty bartender named Charlene (Adams).  They fall in love and soon move in together.  Micky’s family resent Charlene and the way she’s “stolen” Micky from them but she’s not afraid to stand up for herself.  There are some very funny arguments between them and she easily was my favourite character in the film.

Yes, this is a film about boxing but it’s more about a person’s struggle to grow up and break away from an interfering family.  Micky wants to turn his back on his mother’s guilt-trips and his brother’s erratic behaviour but it’s difficult.  It’s an interesting paradox in that Micky can defend himself so valiantly in the boxing ring and yet he struggles to do so outside of it.

The film has received a string of nominations for its performances and with good reason.  Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are all great.  I did smirk at the casting of the attractive Wahlberg alongside his “trailer trash” sisters.  It was hard to believe they all came out of the same womb.  At the preview screening I attended, the audience laughed every time the sisters appeared on screen.  They didn’t even have to say anything to be funny.

It takes a little while for the story to get going but the second half of the film is excellent.  The characters are fully developed and the boxing sequences are enthralling.  You’ve always got a ringside seat to the action.  I was unfamiliar with Micky Ward’s story prior to seeing the film and that only added to the suspense.

The Fighter is a story we’ve heard before.  An athlete hits rock bottom and is looking to give the sport away.  He then “rediscovers” himself and goes on to become a champion.  Don’t let the seemingly predictable nature of this tale perturb you interest however.  Who doesn’t enjoy a great underdog story?  The fact that it’s filled with such strong characters makes it even better.