Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Fighter: More drama outside the ring than in

The Fighter (biography, drama, sport)
Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams

Paramount Pictures | 2010 | 116 min | Rated R | Released Mar 15, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

English, English SDH, French, Spanish

50GB Blu-ray Disc
Digital copy (on disc)
DVD copy

The Film 4/5

It’s not easy to make a movie about boxing. The fights have to look realistic and there’s the problem of the plot.

Rocky won three Oscars and tells the story of an underdog who overcomes the odds. That’s the obvious feel-good storyline that will suck in most viewers. Then there’s Scorsese’s Raging Bull, with two Oscars, which some regard as the best movie of the 80s. Clint Eastwood bravely showed the dangers of boxing in Million Dollar Baby and the movie scooped four Oscars.

So there’s clearly plenty of interest in boxing among moviegoers. Is The Fighter in the same league as the three boxing movies mentioned above? What could it possibly do that hadn’t been done before? The Academy liked it, nominating it in seven categories and awarding Oscars to supporting actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, but why should you watch it?

Like Raging Bull, The Fighter portrays real events, showing the lives of brothers Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Bale). The movie also has strong characterization. This is not a story focusing on boxing; it’s a story about how the dynamic in Micky’s family influences his career.

Early in the movie, we get a feel for how things will develop. Dicky is the focus of attention and completely overshadows Micky in every situation. Alice (Leo), their mother, clearly favors Dicky. She barely acknowledges anything that Micky says. The family group is completed by Micky’s sisters who always seem to be shouting and trying to attract attention. The result is utter chaos when the whole family appears together on-screen. Instead of shouting even louder to make himself heard above the din, Micky tends to keep quiet. I adopt the same strategy when I’m in a room full of people that don’t have any interest in what I’m thinking.

Dicky is famous in Lowell, Mass. for once knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard, but at 40, his dreams of a comeback have little chance to become a reality. He spends his time smoking crack and is unreliable. He’s supposed to be training Micky, but often fails to show. Dicky and Alice arrange Micky's fights and match him with an opponent who is 20 pounds heavier. Micky takes a beating and loses his fourth fight in a row.

Micky’s fortunes improve when he dates Charlene (Adams), who works in his local bar. She’s intelligent, brutally honest, and actually seems to care about what he thinks. Micky’s family hates her, but she’s strong and stands up to their abuse. When Dicky is arrested and jailed, Charlene persuades Micky to work with a new manager. He is matched against weaker opponents and starts to win. His career quickly improves and he is given the chance to face tougher opponents for more money.

It’s here that the movie starts to show real character development. Micky’s confidence grows and he starts making more of his own decisions. Alice vows to be a better mother. The biggest change of all concerns Dicky. Prison changes him and he avoids drugs and starts to train. He wants to leave prison a better man and be a positive influence on Micky’s life. There’s a huge power struggle when he’s eventually released.

All of the main actors turn in good performances. Wahlberg trained four years for the part because the movie was continually delayed. Bale portrays Dicky well and it’s hard to argue with his Oscar win (although Geoffrey Rush gave a great performance in The King’s Speech). Leo was annoying throughout, but that’s the whole point. Her character was supposed to be the main cause of conflict. Adams did well with her limited role, but it was too small to merit serious Oscar consideration. She’ll have better roles than this.

The boxing scenes look real and were filmed using HBO crews. Although he didn’t say much, Wahlberg looked like a boxer.

What is the movie really saying? Is it showing us that it’s never too late to change? Is it asking us to question choices between career, family and romantic partners? Is it saying that you should never give up on your dreams? It touches on many themes.

Video Quality 4.5/5
The transfer is strong in every department, displaying the gritty world of The Fighter accurately. Detail is good and colors look natural. This is a drab world, but it seems full of life. Take a look at bricks or clothing and it’s easy to see intricate details.

Audio Quality 4.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix matches the picture quality. Some of the song choices were inspired and I particularly enjoyed hearing The Breeders’ Saints included on the track. All of the songs sound strong and affect the mood. This is a noisy movie, whether it’s a family argument, a bar scene, a street brawl or action in the ring. The surrounds will get a good workout and place you right in the middle of the action.

Special Features 3/5

The extras are all presented in full high definition:

Commentary – Director David O. Russell gives his thoughts on the movie and the reason behind some of the choices.

The Warriors Code: Filming The Fighter (29:57) – A good “making of” feature.

Keeping the Faith (8:33) – The real Ward and Eklund families talk about boxing.

Deleted Scenes (16:53) – With optional commentary.

Theatrical Trailer (2:32)

DVD (with digital copy)

The Fighter isn’t an easy movie to watch. That’s not because it is bad; it’s a reflection on the subject matter. It would be hard to exist within such a chaotic family unit and it’s actually painful to experience at times. The setting is drab and gritty and it’s not a particularly pleasant journey. That’s all intentional and is a compliment, but it’s not exactly fun to experience. If you like drama, character development and boxing, you’ll love The Fighter. If you just want boxing action, there are a few better options. Russell has crafted a good film worthy of its Best Picture nomination.


  1. I haven't seen this movie yet - I keep meaning to, but I'm always too busy! It sounds like something I would like, so sometime when I have a spare weekend, I'll have to rent this.

  2. It almost made me dizzy during scenes when the entire family was competing to be heard. It's a good film, but not great. Not in my Top 5 from 2010, but good enough to watch or own. I hope you like it.