Dicky Ecklund is a former boxing legend that squandered his talents and threw away his shot at greatness. Micky Ward, his brother, is the struggling journeyman boxer who spent his life living in his big brother’s shadow. ‘The Fighter’ is the inspirational, story of these two brothers who, against all the odds, come together to train for a historic title bout that will unite their fractured family, and give their hard-luck town what it’s been waiting for: pride.
Director David O. Russel returns from a six year feature film hiatus to bring his biopic on Mickey Ward and his rise into professional boxing to the cinemas. ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward may be the central character to this film, but O. Russel takes things far beyond Mickey himself exploring the key influences that played a role in forming Ward into the man he becomes, and the challenges that those closest to him endure when trying to unite and help him along his journey.
‘The Fighter’ is beautifully paced from beginning to end, O. Russel makes great use of location scenes to help build the character of Lowell, Massachusetts itself and in doing so successfully portrays a working class town where life is a struggle, and people look to each other and their local heroes for inspiration.
It’s something of a familiar underdog story being told here, and from the earliest scenes the emotional stakes begin to build as the various characters are introduced and their relationships are fleshed out. The drama takes place on a number of levels as the film explores Micky’s relationship with his brother, his parents, and his love interest, not to mention the challenges of his fighting career. While Micky is the main character, the film follows Dicky on his own challenges taking the time to allow his character’s arc to be explored and to reach its end point naturally while obviously intertwining with Micky’s story as necessary.
There is a good use of suspense as the film capitalises on the emotive connection it builds between the characters and the audience as the two brothers reach various pivotal moments in the film. This technique is greatly enhanced through the dramatic performances delivered by the cast.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between the brothers Dicky and Micky, Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale display excellent onscreen chemistry, O. Russel utilises Bale’s dedication to his art form resulting in an excellent performance on screen which is deserving of every piece of praise it’s receiving. Wahlberg’s performance is at his career’s best taking on the central role to this film from where all the other performances stem from.
Moving beyond the two central characters ‘The Fighter’ is packed with a strong cast, despite varying amounts of material to work with, all of the actors deliver strong dramatic performances and occasionally a comedic moment rounding out the film. Melissa Leo deserves a special mention as her portrayal of a conflicted and driven mother adds a powerful emotional weight to all of her scenes.
An interesting decision was made regarding the style of filming used for the boxing scenes, O. Russel uses an ESPN coverage style of presentation throughout the film each time a boxing match takes place. This decision has drawn some debate amongst reviews however I found it added authenticity to the film with the transition occurring virtually seamlessly.
Watching ‘The Fighter’ is easily the most enjoyment I’ve experienced at the cinema in recent months, I simply cannot recommend it enough, it is a dramatically uplifting and inspirational film which is not only a story about a professional boxer but the family he comes from. On reflection the title perfectly captures the essence of the film and is every bit as applicable to each of the two brothers.
I rate this film 4.5 out of 5 stars, it is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday 20th January.