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'The Fighter' Movie Review

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale Deliver a Knock-Out with 'The Fighter'

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (2 Reviews)


Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in 'The Fighter.'

© Paramount Pictures
The Fighter is based on the true story of boxers 'Irish' Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, half-brothers from a large family from Lowell, Massachusetts. From childhood on up, Dicky was the older brother who taught his younger sibling how to handle himself in the ring. Micky's probably the more talented of the two, or at least the one who went on to have a solid career as a boxer. Their relationship as boxers and brothers is put under the microscope in this absorbing, heart-wrenching underdog tale from director David O Russell.
What makes The Fighter more than an average boxing film (of which there have been so many), is the fact the story isn't confined to the ring. The action in the boxing ring is merely a supporting player to the drama played out in Micky and Dicky's family life. And the fact The Fighter doesn't reach a new level as far as depicting boxing matches on film and yet is still one of the best boxing movies in history speaks volumes for the work of director Russell, screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, and the entire ensemble cast led by Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. We see a few pivotal fights play out in the ring, but the emotional battles and wounds inflicted by words alone are the heart and soul of this compelling drama.

The Story

We catch up with Dicky Eklund years after he had his last real shot at success in the ring. An HBO crew is following him around to document his comeback attempt, though only a short time later it's evident to all any chance Dicky had for a comeback is long gone. Dicky's biggest claim to fame is once knocking Sugar Ray Leonard down and he's quick to point that out, bringing it up in nearly every conversation. It had earned him the title "The Pride of Lowell," but now it's Micky's turn. He's the man of the hour, the fighter the family's resting its hopes on.

Unlike his drug-abusing, screwed up half-brother, Micky's a quiet man who lets his fists do his talking. Dicky's taken to hanging out in a squalid flop house, smoking crack and missing appointments to train his brother for an upcoming match. Micky, meanwhile, concentrates on getting into top physical shape despite all the drama surrounding his older brother. While working out to get ready, Micky also has to deal with an overbearing mother (Melissa Leo) who manages his career and seven sisters from hell who form a harpy chorus echoing everything their mother says.

Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in The Fighter

Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in 'The Fighter.'

© Paramount Pictures
Micky's shot at being a contender is reaching a critical stage as he's getting up in age and hasn't been winning the fights he needs to in order to be taken seriously. A new no-nonsense girlfriend (played by Amy Adams) helps Micky see the light and that, along with Dicky's run-in with the law and subsequent prison sentence, frees him up to change his management and get a new trainer. Getting out from under his mother's thumb was the right move as his fight career immediately turns around and his shot at greatness finally presents itself - just as a reinvigorated, remorseful Dicky returns from his time spent in jail.

The Acting

The Fighter is perfectly cast all the way around. Who would have thought Wahlberg and Bale would work as brothers? The unlikely pairing of two actors from diverse backgrounds with opposing acting styles is the crucial element in making The Fighter work so brilliantly. Bale physically transforms, once again losing a great amount of weight, to play the jittery crack addict who obviously loves his brother but is too often the anchor that drags him down. It's another stunning performance from the 36 year old actor, one made all the more riveting for the subtle changes he makes after Dicky cleans up and emerges from prison less manic but still a loose cannon.

Wahlberg was so dedicated to ensuring Micky Ward's story was faithfully brought to life on the big screen that he trained for four years prior to making The Fighter, pushing through the various roadblocks thrown up on the path to production. Russell and Wahlberg reunite for the third time (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees), and the director brings something special out in the rapper-turned-actor. Wahlberg's performance isn't as showy as Bale's, but it's almost as compelling. And Wahlberg truly benefits from working opposite Bale as any scene they're in together elevates his work.

Russell has selected an extraordinarily batch of actors to fill the supporting roles, from Jack McGee as Micky's long-suffering stepfather to the seven women who play the loudmouthed pack of sisters. Standouts in the supporting crowd include Melissa Leo as the pushy mother who manipulates her sons and nearly ruins their lives. It's the sort of character we've seen many, many times before but Leo puts her own stamp on the part and never lets it wander into caricature territory. Amy Adams is terrific as Micky's pull-no-punches girlfriend, going toe-to-toe with Bale and Leo and completely holding her own.

Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward in The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter.

© Paramount Pictures

The Bottom Line

The Fighter is a brilliant film with an ensemble that does an amazing job of portraying the dysfunctional, complicated family and a director whose visual and storytelling styles fit the subject matter like a glove [boxing glove, in this case]. While the boxing scenes are nothing extraordinary and we know the outcome before the bell's rung - this is based on true events after all - what makes The Fighter a winner is being able to witness Micky Ward's sometimes traumatic, sometimes uplifting journey taken to becoming a champion. And you absolutely do not have to follow boxing to be able to be a fan of The Fighter.


The Fighter was directed by David O Russell and is rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.

Theatrical Release Dates: December 10, 2010 limited, December 17, 2010 wide

Disclaimer: This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
The FIghter-Great Movie, Member scnursetolove

This was such a great movie!!! I'm a 47 y/o female who's never liked boxing, but this was not a movie about boxing; it's a movie about overcoming obsticles and coming out a winner. It's about family, addiction, and much much more. GO SEE!!

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