What is it about boxing that makes for such compelling cinema. Whether it’s Rocky or Raging Bull, there is something undeniably captivating about the sport when put on the big screen; the combination of a very personal struggle with the brutality of each bout making for great cinema.
The latest in the genre is The Fighter, which is based on the true story of two brothers. Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is the younger of the two, who is a talented boxer unable to reach his potential because of his brother Dicky (Christian Bale). Dicky is a boxer who had to retire because of back problems. Since then he’s become Mickey’s trainer and a crack addict.
Micky is considering giving up boxing until he meets Charlene (Amy Adams). She believes Micky’s brother is preventing him from reaching his potential in the sport. Inevitably this leads to tensions between Micky’s large family and his new girlfriend, as both believe they know what is best for the future champion.
The Fighter moves at a blistering pace. A lot of which comes from the tension that frequently bubbles over. People fight in rings, they fight on the streets, they fight on doorsteps, and they fight in bars. What we’re being shown is an environment where everyone talks but no one listens. The irony is that Micky, The Fighter, seems to be the most mild-mannered and pacifist of the bunch.
This is very much at odds with his brother Dicky. Dicky is someone, it would seem, incapable of standing still. Bale absolutely nails the movement of his character, which gives him a slipperiness; a feeling that he could inexplicably escape any situation he gets himself into. As the story progresses, there is both charm and a tragedy to his character that makes him, rather than Micky, the emotional heart of the piece.
If there’s to be any criticism of the film, it comes in part as a result of the shackles of its genre, a biopic, than any particular failings on the part of its director, David O. Russell. We know how the film will end, before it begins. It’s not often you make a film about the guy who comes second.
If I were to criticise the director it would by saying that when Micky’s championship fight came, there was a feeling all other troubles went out the window. Perhaps in real life this was the case, and everyone really did live happily ever after. However, given the pain that preceded the fight, it would have been nice to see some hint of the hurt that would still have existed despite such a momentous occasion.
To me, this type of filmmaking comes a result of the director being a slave to audience expectations, rather than the story itself. Audiences love stories of triumph over adversity, however, given the film itself deals with the aftermath of such success in the form of Bale’s character, it would have been nice to know a little more about the impact the success actually had on those closest to Micky.
The Fighter is a film, although predictable at times, still well worth investing your time in. It mixes great performances, humour, and grittiness to tell a compelling tale of an athlete who succeeds both despite and because of his upbringing.