At a glance most would suspect The Fighter is about “Irish” Micky Ward (played deftly by Mark Wahlberg). Ward has become known as a stepping stone in his small hometown of Lowell after several tough losses mostly in part due to poor management from his mother. But as the camera pans out and our point of view broadens we begin to see another fighter, brother turned trainer and ex-boxing pro Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Dicky is also partially to blame for Ward’s slump as his crack addiction and lackadaisical attitude towards training hinder Ward’s preperation dramatically.
It would’ve been possible for Director David O’Russell to focus on Ward’s ascension individually, but half the film would’ve been lost. At times Bale’s portrayal of Eklund, the one time all-star of Lowell who “knocked down” Sugar Ray-Leonard, outshines everyone including Wahlberg, giving nuance to one of the best performances of his career. Dicky’s drug addiction, which he uses to blind himself from the fact that he’s been riding his famed coattails for much too long, becomes almost as much of a central part in the movie as Ward’s title fight, as we get to see fictionally the filming of a real HBO Documentary: High On Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell.
With the addition of this storyline comes the depth of Wahlberg’s character. Not only does he have to train to fight in the ring, but he also has to battle his way from out of his brother’s shadow. In addition he has to tread lightly on the decision of whether to cut his family loose and perhaps get the quality training he deserves or keep his family in charge and possibly ruin his career, and his life, forever.
When the time comes for the actual scene of the title fight you’re so emotionally involved with the characters you can’t help but root for Ward. Not only that, but the cinematography is so pitch perfect that it doesn’t feel stilted or recycled, but instead fresh and exhilerating. Sure you’ve seen boxing before in movies, but overall this movie plays out like there was a drama being filmed and then a fight broke out.