You can take your King’s Speech, your Social Network, and your Black Swan and go put them in a drawer somewhere. They were all phenomenal films, don’t get me wrong, but for me, The Fighter was the best picture of last year, hands down. No other film evoked the same kind of emotions in me that The Fighter did, and for that, I find it superior to all the rest of the films that were heavily lauded last year. I even liked it better than the original Rocky. And no, I’m not taking that back.
A lot of people make the argument that The Fighter is great for its acting but not so much for its storytelling, but I have to disagree. While, yes, the acting in this film is impeccable -- Academy Awards for both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are proof of that -- but I still think that this film is one of the best movies of the past 10 years. It’s got heart, it’s got humor, and it never slows down, which is rare for a drama these days. The pacing for this movie is incredible.
The story centers around real-life former junior welterweight boxer Micky Ward, back when he was still struggling to make it. His character is played by Mark Wahlberg, who has never been better in anything else in his entire life. Wahlberg manages to make Micky likeable without even trying very hard, which is why he might be so good at it. He’s down on his luck, but he’s talented, and the movie is about his rise to success. Simple enough. But then, something happens. You at first go into this film thinking that this is going to be just like any other boxing movie centered around the boxer -- I mean, it IS called The Fighter, isn’t it? -- only to find out that it’s as much about the people around him as it is about the boxer himself. In fact, it’s probably even more about the people around him, making this one strange beast of a sports movie. A straightforward biopic this ain’t.
Christian Bale, who’s played everybody from a psycho to Batman [What's the difference? -- Ed.], is perfect as Micky’s “junk bag” brother, Dicky Eklund. Dicky was once a boxer himself, and is a local hero for a fight he once had with Sugar Ray Leonard many years ago. But Eklund fell deeply into drugs, and this part of the story is just as important as Micky’s struggle to fame. And this is where the story gets interesting. We really feel for Dicky, and we’re torn between which story we’d rather see -- Micky’s rise to the top, or Dicky kicking the habit. Luckily for us, we’re allowed to see both movies at the same time and watch them intertwine toward the end. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here by telling you that they both succeed by the closing credits. This may be a different kind of sports movie, but it’s still a sports movie, and in sports movies, people succeed. Nobody would want to go see Seabiscuit if the horse bought the farm at the end.
The females in this film make things even more interesting. Amy Adams plays Micky’s girlfriend, and for the first time ever, I actually found her attractive. And it’s not because she’s beautiful or anything like that, as I’m pretty sure she’s not even wearing make-up in the movie. But it’s how she supports Micky when everybody, including his own mother (Melissa Leo), seems to want to use him for their personal gain. It’s her stand-by-your-man mentality that ultimately makes her sexy. It makes the story even more compelling when all of these different characters combine and fight for Micky. They all try in their own particular way to put him on the path they think is right for him, and it really makes for some stellar moments that almost make the fights in the ring seem unimportant compared to the ones that are going on outside of it.
The Fighter is a first-rate film that really didn’t have to be as good as it is. There were other great movies last year that will probably overshadow this one in year’s time, but for me, there’s nothing better than this. If you like good flicks with a lot of heart and soul, pick this movie up. You’re going to have a hard time finding any better.
When watching the movie, I often wondered if director David O. Russell went all The Wire style and hired mostly locals to fill in the parts of the general community. The special features prove that he did indeed. And while some of the special features may be a bit long and drawn-out at times, they definitely expand the world of Micky Ward and his brother, Dicky. They also expand the world of Lowell, Massachusetts itself, making every aspect of this disc special if you’re a major fan of the film as I am.
The commentary with the director is phenomenal in a dry sort of way. It’s not like David O. Russell is offering anything mind-blowing about the film, but you can hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice. It’s like an artist standing back and admiring their work, and David O. Russell is that artist. Most of the time, he spends the commentary talking up his actors and the scenes they had to do. One interesting note is that the crew actually considered calling the film, “Head, body, head,” at one point, which is stupid. But it definitely fits with the film if you watch it. Still, it’s silly to think that it could have sounded like a game of the Hokey-Pokey if they actually went through with the plan.
“The Warrior’s Code: Filming The Fighter” is a painstaking look at all the different factors that went into making the film. It’s interesting to watch the real-life counterparts of Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund discussing how they didn’t think the movie would ever get made, only to see it blossom right in front of their eyes. It’s lengthy, but it’s fascinating. “Keeping the Faith” is about how people actually do idolize Dicky and his famous fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. It really makes all the events in this film seem even more revelatory when it comes to sticking to the facts. Real life is stranger than fiction sometimes, I guess. There are also some deleted scenes on here that, like most home releases, don’t seem all that necessary. The theatrical trailer -- which still looks awful to me, what with its cheesy inspirational music -- is also on here, rounding out the special features.