The Fighter - Blu-ray Review

'the story of a family hemmed in by inner-city problems; drugs and near-poverty, by family problems; the inability to escape and the suffocating stench of obligation and by human problems; addiction, avarice and the inability to fulfil one's potential'

I'm a bit bored of boxing movies. I can't pinpoint the film that brought this feeling about but chronologically it must have happened somewhere between The Hurricane (which I did see) and Cinderella Man (which I didn't see). Like many sports, there's a lot of good, personal, wide-reaching stories to be told, stories which are multi-layered and summarise a heap of conceptual ideas beyond putting two people in a ring and asking them to throw as many punches as possible. But time and time again, the boxing film seems to default back to the story of the plucky underdog who must overcome gigantic shades of adversity in order to defeat a stronger opponent and win a terrific moral - sometimes spiritual - victory.

The Fighter is exactly that film. What marks it out above other similar films is that it may well be the definitive version of this story. It is also, for at least sixty percent of its screen time, not a boxing film. Boxing happens but it happens around the family drama of the Ward and the Eklund families (and don't ask me where one starts and the other stops - even the characters don't seem entirely sure). Focusing on Micky (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky (Christian Bale), The Fighter is the story of a family hemmed in by inner-city problems; drugs and near-poverty, by family problems; the inability to escape and the suffocating stench of obligation and by human problems; addiction, avarice and the inability to fulfil one's potential. The problems result in fractures and tensions which form The Fighter's main dramatic impetus and provide distraction from the sport which happens elsewhere.

When the sport does happen, The Fighter remains watchable and interesting although it feels as though director David O. Russell didn't quite hit his intended target with the in-ring sequences. Although Wahlberg looks the part, the fights never achieve the kinetic feel Russell talks about in the Blu-ray extras and more than one of them fails to escape the staged look of a rehearsal set. The final fight too relies way too much on commentary: an odd decision considering it is used so sparingly in the prior bouts.

Outside of the ring though, The Fighter is a more-than-competent social drama, with a strong emotional core lent to it by Micky's attempts to integrate girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams - fantastic) in to his family and Dicky's attempts to escape the drugs that have left him a nervous wreck of overt hand movements and vocal flaws. The lyrical combat, scripted by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, is smart and snappy and does well to avoid cliché, whilst the actors master the New England intonations without fault. Less well-publicised supporting turns from Jack McGee and Mickey O'Keefe (playing Mickey O'Keefe no less) lend well-developed authenticity to the family story and the never-ending show of colourful Ward/Eklund sisters are a joy.

Russell keeps thing fast-moving but isn't above taking time to develop moments between Charlene and Micky, moments which are key to nailing the human elements of the narrative. It's a great boxing film - one that will take some beating should anyone want to revisit this narrative arc - and a terrific social drama: a true and well-developed melding of sport and the things that happen outside of that sport which make it such a joy to observe.

Look further...

'takes what looks a clichéd underdog story and fills it with freshness, making you want to don a grey tracksuit and go jogging within seconds of the credits' - Ross v Ross, 4/5


  1. The human element is what made this isn't it? I mean his brother was a complete junkie and the film didn't shy away from showing that aspect. The family was a complete pain and I wanted to belt all of them, especially when the sister beat up Mickey's girl.
    Certainly is film that isn't just about the boxing athough it is considered a boxing/sports film alone. The people dynamics are a real aspect that can't be overlooked.

  2. Absolutely. Without that element I don't think you're left with a whole heap. As I said, I actually wasn't that impressed by the fight scenes - especially with Haye v Klitschko still fresh in the memory - felt they looked very staged and punches very planned. Great drama though. Really enjoyed it.

  3. The Fighter has those pitch-perfect performances that keep this film going but it's also Russell's direction that wants to do so much and does, but still tells a straight-forward story well. Good Review!

  4. Yes, agree completely. Also read a lot of stuff about how Russell gets the best out of Wahlberg, which I'd absolutely agree with here. Still think THREE KINGS is a fantastic film as well.