“The Fighter” is a real-life
story, of “Irish” Micky Ward, the pride of
, rising to the world welterweight title.
But it sure wasn’t an easy road.
Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is the kind of
club fighter that we expect to see sweating in an obscure downtown gym
somewhere, punishing an already-battered speed bag and sparring with split
headgear to a disinterested audience of a handful of wannabes and
hangers-on. Always, his
chain-smoking mother Alice (Melissa Leo) has been his agent, and his older
brother Dicky (Christian Bale) his trainer.
But Dicky, after an infamous title fight with Sugar Ray, where the
champ either slipped or was knocked down, depending on whose version of
events you believe, has slid steadily downhill ever since that fateful loss
by decision. He’s on drugs
now, manic, running with the wrong crowd, late for his appointments,
constantly preoccupied and distracted.
We can see his fiery energy, still, but he has no focus.
Micky has been indulgent of his older brother’s vices and
irresponsibility, as has his rough-edged mother, who turns a blind eye to
anything she doesn’t want to see.
The turning point for Micky was to
meet Charlene (Amy Adams), the good-looking young bartender at the local
pub. She knows what throwing
away potential is like: she
wasted a “full boat” scholarship in high jumping at a prestigious
college because it was too much work. She
knows she messed up, and she can’t go back and change that, and she
doesn’t want Micky to experience the same kind of disappointment in
unfulfilled potential. When
Dicky is finally busted and sent to prison, Micky makes his break from his
oppressive upbringing and begins to train on his own.
But we’re not that easily shed of
our own background, no matter how non-empowering.
Eventually, Micky is the one who has to insist that arrogant Dicky
and surly Mom and possessive Charlene, not to mention his gaggle of
rough-edged sisters who serve as a kind of blue-collar Greek chorus, are
just going to have to get along, for his sake.
And now the pugilistic career is ready to bloom at last.
Yes, the boxing scenes are violent:
how could they not be? But
there’s just enough here about the mechanics of the “sweet science” to
convince the viewer that there’s more to it than just standing in the
middle of the ring and brawling: there’s
strategy and movement and conditioning and, yes, even an appreciation of
hoary tradition, much of it unspoken and unchartered.
Do we root for our hometown warrior to win?
Of course. Even if his
triumph is only temporary. That
may be all the fifteen minutes of fame he will ever need.
You would think this movie’s primary
performance would be Micky’s, and though Wahlberg knows how to play the
street fighter-turned-noble gladiator, it’s Bale who really steals this
show. His intense, peripatetic,
high-energy performance casts such a fluorescent glare that the other
performances, crass and correct as they may be, retreat into the shadows
cast by dim luminescence. Bale
is a force of nature here. And here’s predicting that he’ll receive the
recognition he deserves for it.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace