Classic “boxing movies” – Body and Soul, Champion, Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby – are more about human relationships than the art (or lack thereof) of fighting. So, too, with The Fighter. It’s based on excerpts from the career of Micky Ward, a welterweight from the decaying community of Lowell, Massachusetts.
Micky (Mark Wahlberg) has lost several fights in a row and is desperate. He’s surrounded by misfits – a domineering mother who acts as his manager; a group of shrill harpies, namely his seven worthless sisters; and his crack-head half brother Dickie (Christian Bale) a gaunt, broken down, ex-fighter living in a past memory of knocking down (actually pushing down) Sugar Ray Leonard in a long ago bout. Dickie has been Micky’s trainer, but is in the clink for the early part of the movie. Micky seems to have reached the end of the line when he finds Charlene, a local girl bartender (Amy Adams) who becomes his anchor, and who is quietly tough enough to take on Micky’s mother and the harpies.
There’s a huge contrast between the impressive, but off-the-wall antics of Bale and the somewhat underplayed performance of Wahlberg. Amy Adams is wonderful as the girlfriend.
The relationships go off in several directions: Dickie works to get clean, but may not be able to resist the crack, and there’s tension building with Micky; Micky wants to be free of Mother’s shackles; Micky and Charlene wend their way through conflicts with the family that threaten their relationship. The boxing is a pivot for the conflicts rather than the primary focus.
These are real people. They are still alive and kicking in Lowell. It’s always difficult, however, to know how much of the story is told accurately in the Hollywood version. No matter in this case. Even though there’s some unfinished business in the movie, prepare to be entertained by some top-flight performances in a well-directed, well staged movie.