Special to The Dagger
In the same week that Sylvester Stallone finds himself immortalized in the boxing hall of fame for his portrayal in a film depicting the most brutal sport, we are treated to the return of the Great Sports Movie riding the coat tails of “The Wrestler” and the “Rocky” franchise.
Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a struggling low-level boxer used by his family and the boxing establishment to further their own goals at his expense. Ward grew up idolizing his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and followed in his footsteps and the family business to take up the gloves. A series of defeats both in the ring and in his personnel life reach a climax when Dicky is arrested on drug-related charges and Mickey is forced to choose between his family and his career.
Making the obvious and perhaps unfair comparison to “Rocky” seems to be a necessity in a review of this film. Based on a true story, the story obviously differs from Stallone’s offerings, but follows the same formula with moderate success. The difference, and highlight of the film, is Bale’s portrayal of Dicky in yet another remarkable transformation that has begun to define Bale as an actor. (If you haven’t seen “The Machinist,” stop reading this now and go watch it.) Wahlberg holds his own and brings a calming quality against wildness that Bale characterizes. Together they manage to carry what amounts to a fairly mediocre telling of Mickey Ward’s life into something enjoyable.
Both actors have made it known during interviews that the goal of the film was to be more than a boxing movie. In a sense, it is. Most of the film revolves around common themes of family drama, drug addiction, and the strength of brotherhood and friendship. In these themes, “The Fighter” most closely represents “The Wrestler;” a dark brooding drama with sport thrown in. Unfortunately, the fight sequences pull out of this dramatic setup and resort to the same formulaic “Rocky” fight set up. Mickey/Rocky gets beat on for most the fight and then miraculously turns it on in the final rounds to win in the end. While there is a touch of historical accuracy to this fight formula in the real Mickey’s career, I found the Hollywood re-telling to be a distraction—one which should have been handled more subtly by Russell.
Being largely unfamiliar with Mickey’s career, I did find it interesting that his career-defining series of fights against Arturo Gatti were left as footnotes in the screenplay. Overall, the film is not the best I have ever seen, but it is the best sports movie I have seen in a long time.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it if you are a big “Rocky” fan. Otherwise, it is a good Sunday afternoon rental during a Bills game next year.
TWO AND A HALF STARS out of four.
Directed by David O. Russell. Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington.
Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.
Runtime: 1 hour, 54 min