Movie Review : The Fighter (2010)
David O. Russell
This movie had a lot to live up to. I have been following Micky Ward's career for a long time. It's an athlete I know really well and I kind of like. Is it a sign of time and growing older that I'm now going to see biopics about things I've lived on the moment? Maybe, but it's not important. The Fighter lived up to my expectations and went way beyond. If it doesn't win the Oscar this year, then the game is rigged. It's by far the most accurate movie I've ever seen about the life of combat sport athletes.
For those unfamiliar, Micky Ward (played by Wahlberg) is a legendary slugger from Massachussets. Blessed with unreal toughness and crippling body shots, he was also cursed with hands way too slow for his own good. That made him a really tough stepping stone for up and comers. He eventually walked off in the sunset with a few million dollars after three brutal fights with Arturo Gatti. The Gatti fights aren't part of the movie though. Which is a bitter-sweet decision since it's what he's remembered for. The Fighter concenrtates around his unhealthy family life and his troubled relationship with his brother and trainer Dick Eklund (played remarkably well by Christian Bale). So the Gatti fight was kind of irrelevant anyway.
The movie covers a period that goes from the Mike Mungin fight to his capture of the WBU championship belt, a formidable come-from-behind victory against Shea Neary. It's a period of twelve years, but it's not presented in order. David O. Russell skims a good part of the chronology in order to concentrate on the characters. And it's a wise decision because the characters indeed rule that movie. Much has already been said about Christian Bale's performance, but he's that good. It's his best performance since The Machinist and even then he's maybe better in this one. Mark Wahlberg is a little plain, empty, but he studied Micky Ward enough that he can make himself forgettable. Many times I was watching movie and saw Micky Ward instead of Wahlberg (who by the way, looks a lot more sympathetic than Marky Mark).
David O. Russell is the unsung star of his own movie. His portrayal of the fighter's life is spot on accurate. I've been involved in martial arts for eight years now and I can tell you nothing in cinema ever came close. There's this shot at the beginning, the night after Ward lost to Mike Mungin. He's at home, alone, trying to sleep on his couch, with a bottle of aspiring on the table nearby. This is what defeat is. Isolation, embarrassment and pain. But even beyond that, all sorts of details make it stand out in realism. Like for example when Charlene (Amy Adams) sleeps over for the first time, they sleep on a sofa bed. These guys put their whole lives on the line to look like timeless gladiators, thirty minutes every two months, but most of them can barely afford to live a decent lives outside the ring/cage.
I would suggest The Fighter to anyone who wants to career in the sport. The portrait they're show is about as good as their lives will get. And even then Ward was lucky, because the snakes around him were in his family and finally understood he needed them. Most fighters don't have this chance. The Fighter is a movie that claims its point with strength and accuracy. It can't get much better than this.