March 30, 2011

A Fight Fan's Review of "The Fighter"

I'VE seen all the boxing movies.

Some of them are better than others. Some of them are pretty bad such as "Ali" and "Undisputed" while some of them are pretty good such as "The Hurricane" and "Million Dollar Baby". Only a select few boxing movies can really be considered great. "Raging Bull" and the original "Rocky" come to mind as great boxing movies. I would put David O. Russell's new film "The Fighter" about the careers of Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund in the category of pretty good bordering on great, which might also be another way to describe the career of it's main character Micky Ward. The movie tells the story of "Irish" Micky Ward and his half brother Dickie Eklund, both boxers from Lowell, Massachusetts. For those who don't know, Lowell is a hardscrabble boxing town where these days, fights break out in bars and on the streets more often than in boxing rings. It's a hard place and both Micky and Dickie are hard men with hard stories to tell. Shot on location in Lowell, director David O. Russell manages to tell it and he pulls few punches in doing so.

What follows is a quick moving, condensed version of Micky Ward's life, his struggles with his highly dysfunctional family, his ups and and downs in the ring, his romantic interest in local bartender Charlene (as played with true grit by Amy Adams) all culminating in his title winning victory in England over the tough and undefeated Shea Neary. Rare is the Hollywood movie that manages to tell a true story and keep it true without leaving out or adding something and "The Fighter" is no exception but Russell does a good job of telling the most important parts of the story and he does so in a very entertaining, authentic way. All in all, "The Fighter" is a very enjoyable boxing movie, the fight scenes are good enough to keep boxing purists happy, and as somebody who lived in the city of Lowell during the most exciting years of Micky Ward's career (1999-2003) I can assure you that the movie is accurate to a fault in it's portrayal of the city and it's people.

Though the film is primarily about the life of Micky Ward (played very subtly by Marc Wahlberg) it also focuses heavily on the story of his older half-brother Dickie Eklund (played now famously by Christian Bale) who was a decent welterweight in the late 70's and early 80's before crack addiction ended his career and landed him in jail. Dickie is best known for having fought an up and coming Sugar Ray Leonard in Boston and credit must be given to director David O. Russell for using actual fight footage from the fight with chilling effect. Russell also does a great job of setting the stage for the whole story using this infamous fight, and the alleged knockdown of Leonard by Eklund, as the backdrop for all that comes after it in the lives of both boxing brothers.

Now for the record, Dick Eklund did NOT knock down Sugar Ray Leonard, however he did go the distance with an all time great fighter determined to stop him. Dickie took a beating in Boston from a prime Ray Leonard, hitting the canvas three times during the fight but getting up and fighting back hurt each and every time. That is something to be proud of. Stepping over Sugar Ray like he did? Well, that was uncalled for, and disrespectful to Ray as a fighter.

My only complaint with the film is that it didn't culminate with Micky Ward's amazing three fight trilogy with human highlight reel, the late great Arturo Gatti; choosing instead to focus on the Shea Neary fight as the climax of Micky's outstanding career. It's a minor complaint however, and it actually leaves open the possibility of a sequel though it seems unlikely to ever happen. There has been much Oscar talk surrounding "The Fighter" and this writer would be very surprised if "The Fighter" didn't win a few Academy Awards and let it be said that if anyone other than Christian Bale wins for best supporting actor, the Academy should lose all credibility because Christian Bale did not merely play Dickie Eklund, he literally became him.

4/5 Stars.
Jeffrey Freeman is a freelance boxing writer from Massachusetts and can be reached at,