I don’t know if any self respecting boxing fan missed any of the three epic fights between Irish Micky Ward and Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti. I even hesitate to call them ‘fights’ as watching these two lunatics knocking the piss out each other for an hour or so was something else altogether. Ahhhh…. Boxing. Where have ye gone? Anyway, if some working class palooka makes it to champion in the sweet science a biopic will not be far behind, as we discuss the cleverly titled biopic ‘The Fighter’ starring Marky Mark Wahlberg as Irish Micky Ward. We liked this movie and all but the life of the late Arturo Gatti is the story we really want to see. I hope you people are working on that.
Our story centers on professional boxers Micky Ward and his half brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale). Way back in ’78 Dickie knocked down the great Sugar Ray Leonard. Or Ray slipped, depending on who you are asking. Regardless I saw that fight and while watching two lightning quick ‘stick and move’ guys dance in circles and not hit each other didn’t make for much a fight, the fact that Eklund hung in with one of the greatest fighters ever should let you know that the man had some skill. When we catch up with Micky and Dickie, an HBO film crew is following Dickie around his hometown of Lowell Massachusetts as he is primed for a comeback, or at least Dickie would have us believe this. In fact the camera crew is doing a documentary on the negative effects of crack addiction. Hmmm… I guess ‘negative effects’ and crack addition is redundant.
This is what Micky is dealing with. A crackhead brother with a penchant for leaping out of crack house windows who is doing a crap job of training him… he he's a crackhead for goodness sakes… and a shrill shrew of a manager in his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) who is badly mismanaging him. Micky also has a daughter by the world’s most unpleasant babies mama. Micky has a crap life.
Then Micky meets Charlene the delightfully trampy barmaid (Amy Adams). Charlene, in her own colorful way, lets Micky know that his family isn’t doing what’s in his best interest. Micky’s family, which includes his eight sisters, believes Charlene is a trashy meddling whore who thinks she’s better than them because she spent a couple years in college. Uppity meddling whore wins out.
Micky, who is quickly running out of time, soldiers on without his mother and his brother who has found his way into the local hoosegow, and Mickey manages to resurrect what little is left of his career... but it’s just not the same without the shrew and the crackhead , and Dickie, despite his laundry list of faults, does have a unique understanding of the sport of boxing. Micky has just landed a championship fight and if he’s going to win he’s going to need the tramp, the shrew and the crackhead all by his side because the Micky Ward we met in this movie can’t make a single decision by himself.
Directed by David O. Russell ‘The Fighter’ is a good, if not a great boxing movie but there are some great things about it. For starters Christian Bale puts on a clinic with his manic performance of Dickie Eklund as he ducks, bobs, weaves, runs and shadow boxes his way right into self-destruction. But as bad as Dickie may have been, at least due to the way Bale portrayed him, he was still someone you couldn’t help but feel for at least on some pitiful level. Plus everything he did, outside of smoking crack, was genuinely in service to his brother and his family, at least in his mind. It’s just that I’m told that crack sometimes forces you into bad decisions.
A less sympathetic character would be Melissa Leo’s translation of Alice who is mostly presented to us a high pitched self serving psychopath with big hair. Of course this could be an accurate representation of the character of Alice Ward, a fact that would only make me admire Micky Ward even more, but Alice wasn’t all that much fun to watch. The performances from top to bottom were all solid, the story that is being told, while feeling terribly familiar, was still engaging enough to keep us involved, the look of the film was suitably gritty giving an accurate feel of the lower class surroundings that our main characters were living in and we liked how the filmmakers lifted the actual HBO play by play and layered it over their staged fights. Just so you know I was championing HBO commentator Larry Merchant’s retirement long before Ward v. Sanchez, more so after that fight, but yet he still drones on.
What wasn’t so great about this movie was The Fighter himself. Not Marky Mark’s performance as Micky Ward which was rock solid, but the way that this movie drew up Micky Ward. Now if this is the way it was then this is the way it was but Micky in this movie seemed to have no control or any say so in regards to anything in his life, leaving all of the decisions in his life, inside or outside the ring, to his family, or to his father until he found a foul mouthed barmaid to make his decisions for him. This part of the movie and the way the filmmakers presented this character to us made it hard to get behind Micky Ward ‘Rocky’ style or ‘Cinderella Man’ style… insert your working class palooka here.
Still, ‘The Fighter’ is a good movie highlighted by some amazing performances. It’s just that boxing movies tend to be some of the best sports movies ever made and by comparison this movie simply isn’t one of those movies.