What makes a man go back to the brutal punishment of the ring despite the odds tilted against success? Perhaps the fact that when a poor, underprivileged man can overcome obstacles and beat the odds, it inspirits his fellows hopes, feeding the possibility to dream and strike for the “impossible”. One could argue that boxing has been a perennial constant over the decades in part because of this, in part because in the conflict between human instincts and society evolution, its contradictions have kept it alive. The redeeming social values for lower class individuals, socioeconomic rise, even character building, far outweigh the disadvantages of the injuries and physical pain. And among those men who beat the odds is “Irish” Micky Ward, the beginnings of his story being captured in the movie “The Fighter”.
I am not going to summarize Ward’s story or the movie, for we are among knowledgeable boxing fans here and it is a story you know. Moreover, there are a lot of reviews doing that already. I will not pretend either to be a professional movie critics giving you a traditional review of the movie. Instead, I will share with you my impressions of the movie as a boxing fan.
From watching the trailers, I had the impression that it was Christian Bale as Micky Ward’s brother Dickie Ecklund who gives life to this film. Upon watching the movie I can fully confirm that suspicion. The movie about Micky Ward’s life could as well have been a movie about Dickie Ecklund’s life, perhaps the latter being even better and richer, as the quality of Bale’s performance in the movie is clearly at a different level from that of the other characters; exponentially superior. In a sense, those are two convolved lives, and such convolution is well captured in the film.
As a disclaimer, I must mention that I am a hard to please audience when it comes to movies. Therefore, a lot of movies that might appeal to the broad audience, will not receive the same reception from me. Having said that might explain why, contrary to other people’s assessments, I did not find Mark Wahlberg’s and Amy Adams’ performances particularly good. To me, they were ok, average actors in the movie, as opposed to particularly good ones. I cannot help to wonder if perhaps the movie would have benefited from better actors to play their roles. I enjoyed Melissa Leo as the mother, except in a handful of attempts to be sentimental.
Expect subpar fight scenes. This is not a boxing movie where you will see a good display in the ring, or even a storyline told through the boxing action in each fight showcased. If it is possible to tell what was going on during a fight, what type of fighter Micky Ward was, his fighting strategy, it is through the real commentary extracted from the real fights, not because of the poor fight scenes. Gabriel Montoya of Maxboxing pointed that out, and I agree with him. One could speculate in an attempt to make sense of why. These are not true boxers but actors after all, and as such, probably not the subjects you want to film in a fight `a la HBO normally films boxing matches, since they do not know how to fight professionally. Instead, one could imagine a need to conceal their boxing deficiencies, which could be done in a “Raging Bull” style of stopping and slowing down the action, creating the illusion of the connecting punches in a way that carries the story of the action development with it. Or one could resort to excessive and a bit extreme close-ups, like “The Fighter” does. As a boxing fan, I personally did not appreciate them. However, in occasions, Wahlberg’s left hook to the body was reminiscent of Ward’s, in particular the way it made his opponents bend and succumb to excruciating pain.
In terms of the historic record of Micky Ward as a boxer, this is not the place to look at, and not the main purpose of the movie either. For instance, the chronology of events is not accurate. The movie gives the impression that from the moment he stops fighting, returns, to the moment he gets his WBU title shot, only a short time passed (judging by the growth – or lack thereof – of his little nephew). But we know instead several years passed, and his fight with Alfonso Sanchez did not lead to the WBU win, but rather to a loss against Vince Phillips in an IBF light welterweight title shot. It was not until 3 years and two losses after Sanchez (Phillips and Zab Judah) that his fight against Shea Neary for the WBU light welterweight title took place. Moreover, we would not call the WBU title a “world championship”. As a curious note, I thought I noticed a few people with the Ireland flag booing Ward in the crowd in the Neary fight scene. I might be wrong there, but if so, they were clearly some confused extras that forgot they were there to cheer for their Irish.
I digress from the focus of the film again, which is Ward’s family relationship, in particular with his brother Dickie Ecklund, and the events he lived while pursuing his path to the title shot. In this, an ironic aspect of the movie is that as much of a courageous fighter as Ward was inside the ring, he looks like a rather weak person in terms of character and his ability to deal with difficult family personalities and personal problems outside the ring. As an aside, it might be a matter of personal taste but romantic scenes in this type of movie to me were perturbing and unnecessary, getting two thumbs down. This is just not the place for them, in my opinion. I also wonder if the real Charlene had perpetual sad, pathetic “I want to cry” eyes and a tattooed facial expressions of pain.
You can see my view at this point. Do not expect to see an Oscar worthy movie like Rocky, good boxing action, or a great personal story like in Raging Bull. In fact, in my eyes Christian Bale’s Ecklund saves the day here. He succeeded at transforming himself into Dickie, capturing his essence, gestures, movement, accent, voice, personality, his everything. We get a live testament of that when at the end of the movie, a shot of the real Ecklund appears. The movie is humorous thanks to him. He simply outshines everybody else and makes this a worth to watch movie and one that in the end, despite its deficiencies, if only for Bale, I do believe people should watch.
In the end of the film Ward mentions, pointing at his brother talking and joking, see how I can never get a word in? Yes my dear boxing immortal Ward, not even in your own movie your character could stand out over your brother Dickie…