'The Fighter' Review: Boxing Drama Soars with Great Performances

“The Fighter” is an actors’ film. Unlike other movies that feature one or two strong roles, this new boxing film features four strong characters and four great performances. Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, Christian Bale and Amy Adams all excel in the story of a fighter whose opponents in the ring aren’t the only obstacles standing in the way of his success.

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The movie starts with a film crew videotaping an emaciated former boxer named Dicky Eklund (Bale). Dicky believes that he’s being recorded for a documentary about his long-awaited comeback. He’s a local legend in Lowell, Massachusetts who is well known for knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the ground in a fight he lost years earlier. Dicky thinks that he’s on the way back to the ring. In truth, he isn’t heading back to the ring anytime soon and the documentary isn’t about his comeback. It’s about his addiction to crack and how that addiction is controlling his life.

One of the people most affected by Dicky’s addiction is his half-brother Micky (Wahlberg), who is pursuing a boxing career of his own. As an underdog, Micky is known as a stepping stone for other boxers. However, Micky’s trying to become a champion himself. He’s training with his half-brother but Dicky’s drug addiction often stands in his way.

There are two groups of people supporting Micky in his quest to become a great fighter. His mother (Melissa Leo) and many of his sisters want Mickey to train solely with Dicky, in spite of the latter’s drug addiction and irresponsibility. They ignore Dicky’s poor lifestyle and his frequent trips to a local crack house. The other group supporting Micky include his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) and an older policeman named O’ Keefe, who is played by the real police sergeant who helped train the real Micky Ward. They want Micky to train with professionals who won’t hold him back with their own personal problems.

“The Fighter,” like “Conviction” before it, succeeds because it puts strong characters at the forefront of the story. The film is about a family first. The relatively few boxing scenes resonate because the characters are all well-developed. “Conviction,” the story of a woman who studied law to prove her brother’s innocence, was also about family first. Both stories understood that the best boxing and law movies are not simply about those subjects; they are about how both subjects affect regular people.

Because “The Fighter” focuses on family first, its cast is given an opportunity to develop strong characters. Not all of the characters are likable but audiences can understand why they make the choices they do. It is no surprise that Bale, Leo and Adams are likely Academy Award nominees for their performances. Wahlberg, who also does a good job in the film, could also be nominated in the leading actor category in spite of the fierce competition he faces in that field.

At one point in the movie, Charlene says “I’m trying to do something better here and so is Micky.” That line sums up what many of the characters are trying to do. “The Fighter” is ultimately about a group of people who, despite their flaws, are trying to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

It’s a story and a message that is worth supporting.

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