The Fighter DVD Review

The Family.

This could have easily been an alternate title of David O Russell’s biopic The Fighter, based on the true story of Mickey Ward’s boxing career’s inauspicious beginnings to the stuff of sporting legend.

Of course, this appears to have been as much in spite of his family as because of them.

The film opens with an emaciated, middle aged livewire of a man speaking to an interviewer behind a camera. This is Dick Eklund; a former boxer, known as “The Pride of Lowell” in his home town of the same name in the state of Massachusetts and, to judge by his hollow eyes and restless demeanour, some sort of junkie.

Eklund is swiftly joined on the casting couch by his half brother, Mickey Ward; younger than his sibling and also a boxer, only not yet retired. In stark comparison to his older brother, Mickey is quiet and almost reluctant to be on film.

It’s not clear what the camera crew are documenting at first, though Dicky is constantly talking up his comeback fight.

No-one else is mind.

Dicky appears to be living in the past, and one night in particular when he went the distance with the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

Leonard was even knocked down in that fight from the eighties, though the referee judged it to be a trip rather than through any punch thrown, and still went on to record a unanimous points victory.

Nevertheless, Dicky is still a local celebrity in his home town on the back of this feat. And he lives off the adoration and attention he gets from his fellow inhabitant’s of this one horse town, just as they love having someone who came so close to success living in their midst.

Mickey on the other hand is nothing like Dicky, which may not come as much of a surprise to any siblings reading this. Mickey plays the proverbial cheese to his brother’s chalk, and has to fight just to get a word in when his brother’s around.

Mickey doesn’t seem to mind that much or even want the limelight; except maybe for the attractive girl behind the bar of his local, that he’s too shy to go talk to.

It’s fair to say that you’d never confuse these two men for brother’s if left to your own devices.

But brethren they are, problem is Dicky’s effervescent personality is overshadowing his own brother’s fledgling boxing career; and Mickey isn’t strong enough to fight against this.

Although it’s not just Dicky’s bravura persona that casts a shadow over his brother’s career, it’s also his dependency on crack.

That documentary crew is actually recording a film about drug addiction in Lowell, with Dick Eklund and his fall from grace as the star attraction.

Dicky’s also supposed to be Mickey’s trainer, but it’s hard to do this when you can’t even make it to the gym on time because you’re on crack time.

And Mickey makes things even harder on himself by employing his own mother as his manager; who only ever seems to have her interests, and that of her favourite son’s, at heart.

In fact, Mickey’s mother and her entourage of progeny who suckle off his relative success as a boxer are positively toxic to his chances of actually doing something with his life.

Things come to a head after one hopelessly mismatched fight organised by his family leads to an embarrassing loss. Dicky’s propensity for getting himself into trouble rears its ugly head again, leading Mickey into a contretemps with some overzealous police officers – is there any other kind? – and a potentially career threatening injury.

Having had enough of living his life for everyone else, and with Dicky now behind bars for his criminal misdemeanours, Mickey finally tells the other poisonous elements of his family to do one and starts to fight for the chance to live his own life.

I first heard of The Fighter amongst all the hype in the run up to last year’s Oscar’s, and immediately decided it wasn’t for me.

The whole cinematic boxing thing has been done to death already; and even the critical acclaim, stellar cast and my transparent man sized crush on most anything Christian Bale’s done couldn’t sway me.

Turns out this was my loss, as The Fighter is a classic in the seemingly lost art of cinematic storytelling.

As with any great film about athlete’s, the real drama lies away from the sporting arena’s and with the human heart of the people involved in The Fighter.

Set in the nineties, with acid wash jeans, hairstyles and soundtrack to match, The Fighter is really about one man’s struggle to escape the suffocating grip of his family; before they crush his spirit and dreams through the weight of their own failed lives.

The story is compelling, as a case study into the harrowing reality for many people trapped in America’s suburbs and the total dysfunctionality in family life this can cause.

As you might expect from such an ensemble cast, The Fighter is brilliantly acted. Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward as the stoic, straight man to Bale’s high spirited and out of control incarnation of his Ward’s brother, Dicky.

Equally convincing is Melissa Leo as Alice Ward, their white trash, chain smoking matriarch who only has eyes for her Dicky yet turns a blind eye to his dalliances with drugs; and the always fantastic Amy Adams as Charlene, the tough barmaid who convinces Mickey to believe in himself.

Director Russell ensures it’s this human heart of Mickey Ward’s unlikely story that’s the undisputed champion of The Fighter, although I’m sure a few moments of this real life story were dramatised in the name of creative licence.

Except the disturbingly, familiar family scenes which it’s pretty hard not to identify with.

Just me again?

Oh, come on!

Jonathan Campbell

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June 2011
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