“The Fighter” is the feel-good movie of the year. This trait is also the biggest argument naysayers will have against the film. At its center, it is not a boxing film. This is a story about family, which just happens to revolve around the boxing ring. ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward’s family is the most important thing to him, so much so that their happiness could cost him his career in the ring.
Mickey(Mark Wahlberg) is trying to follow in his older brother’s footsteps in the ring. In his boxing prime, Dicky(Christian Bale) ‘knocked down’ Sugar Ray Leonard(not everyone shares that opinion). Over fifteen years later, Dicky talks of a comeback, and a camera crew from HBO follows him around. He claims that the channel is doing a movie about his comeback, but there is just one problem: Dicky spends most of his time holed up in an abandoned house, smoking crack with a handful of other addicts. The cameras are actually following him for a documentary on crack addiction.
Everyone in the family ignores Dicky’s problem, especially his mother, Alice(Melissa Leo). Alice acts as Mickey’s manager when it comes to his boxing, and Dicky is the trainer. Alice finds a prime fight opportunity in Nevada, which is to be broadcast on ESPN. When they arrive, they found out the scheduled fighter is ill, and is to be replaced with a fighter twenty pounds heavier than Mickey. Mickey is hesitant, but Alice and Dicky talk him into it, plus Mickey realizes that if he doesn’t fight nobody will get paid. When Mickey begins dating Charlene(Amy Adams), she makes him realize that his family might not be looking out for his best interests. Of course, this creates a rift in the family.
Much like Mattie Ross in “True Grit”, the character of Charlene Fleming is a strong female presence in “The Fighter.” Charlene is much more than just a love interest, and the role transcends the stereotype of a sharp-tongued woman with an East Coast accent. Charlene is in Mickey’s corner, and she fights for him in front of his overbearing mother and sisters. She threatens to tear the family apart, but at the same time she just may be the catalyst the family needs to make some positive changes. Amy Adams commands the role, giving Charlene a strength that is appealing and attractive. If she walks away with a few wins this awards season, they will certainly be warranted.
When it comes to Dicky’s run-ins with the law and his family going to the crack house to find him, much of his behavior is played for laughs, which somewhat hurts Bale’s portrayal. At the same time, this character trait is Dicky’s power against his family, and a great portion of the reason why they turn the other cheek to his addiction. When Alice comes to find Dicky in the crack house, she is visibly upset and begins crying in her car. Dicky then begins to sing to her, and before long, she’s singing along with him, forgiving him and enabling him at the same time. This is a depth that is not obvious on the surface, but is certainly present, much to the credit of the screenwriters and Bale’s craft.
By the time the final fight sequence rolls around, “The Fighter” will have the viewer squarely in its corner and on the edge of his or her seat. One interesting moment finds the camera panning left and panning right as Mickey and his opponent exchange blows back and forth. If boxing scenes can be shot without constant jump cuts and can still manage to be exciting, then why do action movies feel the need to do it? Walking out of the theater, the viewer will most likely find their spirit uplifted. If that is the kind of feeling one is looking for as the year closes out, then they have found their movie.