There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.
This 2010 film written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson is based on the true story of two brothers who each attained some degree of success in the world of boxing. As with most biopics, there is some stretching of the truth in order to make a good movie—and that is just what director David O. Russell gives us.
It’s no accident that the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two, for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale as Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor.
Dicky Eckland (Christian Bale) had a very promising career as a boxer–in fact, in 1978, he actually went the distance against Sugar Ray Leonard—but addiction to crack brought it to a standstill. Since then, he has been training his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who is managed by their mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo). But between the mother and brother, Micky always seems to get bad fights. His brother fails to show up to train him and is usually wacked out when he does. HBO has shown up to make a documentary that Dicky claims is about his comeback, but which is actually about the effects of crack on wrecked lives.
Following a terrible loss to a beast of a fighter, Micky begins to question his choices. A promoter from Las Vegas offers Micky a chance to train year round in Vegas and get the fights he deserves, rather than being a “stepping stone” for other fighters. At the same time, Micky meets Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), a former college athlete who drank her way out and now works as a bartender. The two fall pretty deep in love, but Charlene isn’t putting up with Micky’s situation and they decide to revolt, hire their own trainer, and pull back from his family.
Begging for another chance, Dicky promises them that he will raise the money to support Micky training year round in their hometown of Lowell, MA, so they decide to give him a chance, even though Charlene is highly skeptical. Dicky’s pyramid scheme to raise money fails, so he puts his girlfriend on the street so they can fleece cash out of unsuspecting Johns. When it backfires, Dicky is arrested and sent to prison as Micky begins to climb the ladder to success.
Leaving aside the solid performances by Wahlberg and Adams, this is a truly strong cast from top to bottom. I was knocked-out, surprised by just how truly great an actor Christian Bale is. His performance as Dicky is one of the best I’ve seen in the last twenty years and—even as a supporting actor—he carries the film to levels far beyond what it might have been. Also, one cannot say enough about the amazing Melissa Leo’s, whose performance in Frozen River probably should have won her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1978.
Even with enough downers to bring down an elephant, this movie still manages to be a terrific feel-good film. I love movies that show us how we can all be so much more than we are, how we should be awake to change and set goals that move us beyond what we are now—and this movie delivers that in spades. It is a terrific film that I very highly recommend!