Like many character dramas, The Fighter uses the feature that sets it apart–the boxing aspect–as a backdrop. It doesn’t focus on it prominently at all, and instead chooses to look at its characters. Said characters, based on real people, are all solid and interesting, and it was likely a good decision to not focus on them instead of the actual boxing matches.
That isn’t to say that the boxing itself isn’t entertaining, it’s just that the fights can’t compete with the drama aspect of the film. The family drama, as well as the ones of specific characters and their relationships with one another, easily outclasses the boxing matches. Maybe it was the fact that I’m not a big boxing fan, and care more about good characters than watching two guys pummel each other for minutes on end.
There’s another possibility as to why the fights didn’t leave as big an impact on me as the rest of the film did. It might be because of the way they were shot. Director David O. Russell hired a guest director from HBO to film these scenes, and used the same type of cameras that were used in the time frame that the film takes place in. The fights are shot as if they were going to be shown on cable TV, and it looks far worse than the rest of the film does.
Even though this was the intended effect, it didn’t work out as well as it should have. Sure, it gives the fights a more realistic feeling, but the novelty quickly wears off, leaving me wanting to see the fights more clearly. There is a lot of movement with the cameras during these scenes, making the fights somewhat difficult to follow. The times you do get to see them, the choreography is well done, even though it’s exactly what you’d expect from a boxing match. Punches are thrown, people cover their faces, and more punches are thrown. Described as a “chess match” within the film, boxing fights to me aren’t all that entertaining to begin with. Maybe I just don’t get them.
Although they can be hard to follow at times, the boxing matches are still an entertaining part of the film. They don’t harm the film enough to make it boring, and are nicely dispersed in between tense, dramatic moments. They are placed right where they should be, giving the audience a good contrast between drama and action.
The story that takes place around the boxing matches is more interesting, and makes The Fighter worth seeing. “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a struggling boxer, never quite making it. His brother Dick (Christian Bale) is his sparring partner, and his mother (Melissa Leo) is his manager. Things aren’t working out well for him, and after losing an unfair fight, he considers quitting boxing for good.
He doesn’t, of course, as he is egged on by his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams). His issues with her, and with the rest of his family, take centre stage from this point forward. Dick is a crack addict, and is constantly late for training. His mother seems to favor Dick over Micky, and doesn’t seem to have Micky’s best interests in mind. Micky is a passenger in his own life, always having his decisions made for him.
The characters are all interesting, and they all attempt to make you care about them. You will. Their characterization is all strong, from Micky’s passive demeanor, to Dick’s back story, all of it is well done. You see the characters’ flaws, and you want them to get past them. The film want you to feel hope, a feeling that you may or may not get to experience by its finale.
The story is the only real problem that the film has. Even without seeing many, if any, boxing movies, I figured out how each of the matches would end. Predictability is something that The Fighter has, and this factor does take away a slight bit from the story that the film tells.
The acting, on the other hand, definitely helps the story out. All of the main actors did a great job in their roles. Christian Bale especially stands out, playing the drug-addicted older brother to our lead character. He sells the role perfectly, and, as Bale is prone to do, he went through some physical transformations for the role. While he didn’t lose the same amount of weight as he did for The Machinist, (where he lost an astounding 63 pounds), he did lose quite a bit of weight. He looked like he could be addicted to drugs, and this makes you feel sorry for his character.
Mark Wahlberg also underwent significant weight changes for his role of Micky Ward. Unlike Bale, Wahlberg had to bulk up for the film, and actually began training four years prior to filming. He looks like he could be a boxer, and despite being nearly 40 years old, he looks like he could be the 31-year-old Micky. His performance wasn’t quite as scene-stealing as Bale’s was, but it was impressive nonetheless. Unlike previous roles, Wahlberg plays a quieter, more docile character in The Fighter, something that works quite well. He usually plays more alpha-male style roles, but here he gives some genuine depth to his portrayal of the real-life Micky Ward.
To say nothing of the supporting cast would be a travesty. The secondary performances were likely better than the leads, but they do feel overshadowed at times. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams were both excellent, making you focus your attention on them whenever they appear on-screen.
The Fighter isn’t so much about boxing as it is about the relationships between different members in a specific family. It uses boxing as a backdrop, a catalyst to bring forward the drama that the film deals with. The drama is intense, the fights are entertaining, and the characters are interesting. All of the performances were great with the supporting cast overshadowing, yet not totally negating Wahlberg’s performance as the lead. Based on the true story of Micky Ward, The Fighter tells an intriguing story, one that will keep you interested from start to finish.