BOXING films: they have been done. What makes it harder, is they’ve been done with great success.
There’s a reason thousands of tourists emulate Sylvester Stallone’s sprint up the steps of Philidelphia’s Museum of Art in homage Rocky, and who in their right mind would question Raging Bull’s Robert De Niro mantra that he was, in fact, “da boss”.
So what does The Fighter give us, that its predecessors did not? In truth, nothing really. But as the old saying goes – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of real-life underdog ‘Irish’ Micky Ward is wonderfully restrained, providing the perfect accompaniment to Melissa Leo’s harridan mother, a gang of insane sisters, and Christian Bale’s caricature of crack-addict older brother Dickie, who is still dining out on the fame of once knocking out Sugar Ray Leonard under slightly suspicious circumstances.
With the support of ballsy new girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams), Micky desperately tries to box his way out of his sibling’s shadow, ditching both his unreliable brother as trainer and his pushy mum’s questionable booking capabilities, which more often that not result in his face being repeatedly pummelled in unfair fights.
For a film about a violent sport, The Fighter manages to be incredibly touching. “I’m sick of being a disappointment,” says an embarrassed Micky, a line weighted with years of trying so damn hard.
Everyone loves an underdog, and Wahlberg balances it well, propelling the tale forward into rags-to-riches territory with feel good consequences.
Training under new management, Micky’s confidence grows with a string of wins, leading to a shot at the welterweight title.
The finale is a tough round and its result is a heart-felt win for our hero, though its climax is a little sudden and could have been milked for more tension.
Overall, The Fighter is well crafted by director David O Russell, juxtaposing Micky’s struggle for self-belief with his unwavering love for his selfish family.
Bale’s performance as a junkie trying to maintain his former glory is well-played in an irritatingly nervy fashion but it’s a win on all sides for Wahlberg, who deserves a real life golden trophy for his performance.