Excellent Ensemble Delivers Knockout Performance in “The Fighter”

Excellent Ensemble Delivers Knockout Performance in The Fighter

James Cullinane

Dramas based in the Boston area have become a staple of Hollywood in the past decade.  Perhaps due to its Irish-Catholic, blue collar allure, Boston and its inhabitants have become solid gold on the silver screen.  One could say that no film personifies the real spirit of Boston better than “The Fighter”, the biographical story of Micky Ward, a boxer from Lowell, an area which examplifies the Irish-Catholic, working class lifestyle perhaps even more than Boston. 

Micky, the protagonist of “The Fighter”, is played to perfection by Boston native Mark Wahlberg(“The Departed”,”Invincible”).  Directed by David O. Russell, “The Fighter” examines the path taken by Micky Ward in his struggle for the Welterweight Championship.  Ward’s biopic begins in 1993, with Micky being Lowell’s newest boxing success story, though still living in the shadows of his half brother Dicky Eklund, played by Christian Bale(“The Dark Knight”), who became a local legend after allegedly knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard.  Micky’s family could also be listed alongside the word “dysfunctional” in all college dictionaries.  Micky is the son of a money hungry boxing “stage mom”, played by Melissa Leo(“Frozen River”), and the brother of six of Lowell’s toughest women.  In the opening scene, Micky and Dicky are shown walking through their neighborhood, followed by cameramen from HBO.  Viewers are led to believe that these cameras are documenting Dicky’s return to professional boxing, but later learn that this documentary centered around Dicky’s self destructive addiction to crack cocaine.  Throughout “The Fighter”, it is made evident that the most intense battles of Micky Ward’s life, take place not in the ring, but at home in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Bale’s performance as the addiction stricken former “Pride of Lowell” is nothing short of spectacular.  The ups and downs of Dicky’s life are incoincidentally paralleled to the roller coaster like nature of Micky’s boxing career.  Dicky is sent to jail while attempting to raise money to pay for Micky’s training through prostitution.  During Dicky’s brutal arrest, Micky’s hand is broken by a police officer.  After his hand heals, Micky’s career has truly hit rock bottom and he is placed in a situation in which he must choose between his family and his own best interests.  Taking the advice of his nervous father played by Jack McGee(“Rescue Me”), Micky chooses to return to boxing, behind a new trainer and a new manager, positions formerly held by his mother and  beloved brother Dicky.  This decision would have been more difficult for Micky if not for his love interest and future wife Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), who proves to be a constant supporter of Micky as well as a constant opponent of his family, who she believes takes advantage of him.

During Dicky’s term in prison, Micky revitalizes his career, shocking the world with a victory over a previously undefeated fighter.  This victory cements Micky’s new place in the boxing world as he leaves behind the “stepping stone” reputation with which he had been tagged, finally earning his shot at the Welterweight Title.  It is at this point when Dicky completes his prison sentence, returning sober to Lowell, devoted to furthering Micky’s success.  In a dramatic sequence at the gym, Micky must chose between Dicky and his mother or his new management along with Charlene, who is unwilling to accept Dicky’s reemergence in their life.  Micky’s decision to re-hire Dicky as his trainer exemplifies the strong family values of this Lowell community, despite his family’s dysfunctional nature. 

Micky’s reluctance to leave behind his family, which thus far has been nothing short of a thousand pound anchor, pulling down this promising young fighter, is truly the main message of “The Fighter”.  The struggle of these two brothers to get back to the top in the mecca of boxing in Massachusetts is scripted beautifully.  Behind an ideal ensemble and brilliant performances from Wahlberg and Bale, “The Fighter” is the perfect example of family conquering all in one of the nations most well renown blue collar communities.