Mark Wahlberg really wanted to do this movie. He went from studio to studio and from director to director with the script for The Fighter. He even kept in form for boxing for over five years, so that he’d be ready as soon as production could start. At some point Darren Aronofsky was set to direct the film, but he decided to do Black Swan. Probably a smart move, considering the visual and thematic resemblances of The Fighter to Aronofsky’s previous film, The Wrestler.
Wahlberg eventually got David O. Russell to direct. Russell had worked with ‘Marky-Mark’ previously on Three Kings. Actors supporting Wahlberg in his turn as heavy-weight boxing champion Mickey Ward are Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. All three of them got nominated for Oscars, and Bale and Leo deservedly bagged the awards as well.
The Fighter tells the story of the abovementioned Mickey Ward, whose biggest fight is not in the ring, but outside it. There he struggles with a dominant mother, who manages his fights, and the legacy of his older half-brother Dicky Ecklund: a local hero who once knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard but got addicted to methamphetamine and crack. Now Dicky trains Micky and the entire family (including seven hilariously trashy sisters) are supported by the money Mickey makes serving as a stepping stone to better and heavier fighters.
Of course, until a new love – Amy Adams – and a fight with his brother persuade Mickey to take an alternative path to boxing fame. The question is, can Mickey become world champion without the support and love of his family?
The Fighter is an excellent drama, with a superb cast. Wahlberg got robbed from an Oscar nomination. Amidst the mayhem and madness acted out by Leo, Bale and Adams he keeps a cool head. The others may get all the attention with their surrealistic rages, Wahlberg remains the sympathetic, real protagonist without whom the whole picture would descend into absurdist chaos. Which is not to say that Leo and Bale undeservedly won: mother Alice’s pain is felt as she tries to manage and support her white trash family, and Bale is amazing. He physically transformed into a drug addict, with all the jittery manners and nervousness injected into a body stripped from any muscle or fat it does not necessarily need to keep him alive.
The only drawback to The Fighter is that it is not really an original story. It is based on true events, but also feels at times as a remake of, or a tribute to both Rocky and Raging Bull. Although DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta of course became a champion despite himself, and Mickey becomes a champion because of himself, and despite his surroundings.
But even though you know how it is going to end, the fights themselves remain really tense, exciting and suspenseful. Boxing really is the most cinematic of sports, however you feel about the sport itself.