The Fighter


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Micky Ward is one of the very few truly famous people who could be considered a bit player in his own biography. Ward was a hard-punching light welterweight from a blue collar Irish-American family in Massachusetts. He once earned the WBU belt with a dramatic TKO over the formerly undefeated Shea Neary, and his story is a good yarn. In the first part of his career, his mother was his manager and his older brother was his trainer, but he got fed up with his family's mismanagement of his career. After he had gone through a slump, some bad match-ups, and some injuries, he decided to quit boxing at age 26. Some two and a half years later, he decided to make a comeback with new management. He won his first nine comeback fights, knocked out a formerly undefeated contender (Alfonso Sanchez), got some title shots, and ultimately won the WBU title from Neary. Three of his later fights were picked as the "Fight of the Year" by The Ring magazine at the beginning of the millennium.

But this film is not really about him. Micky himself was and is soft-spoken, shy, and sensible. He didn't say or do anything very colorful, and was not very interesting cinematic subject, despite his amazing career. He was just a dull, hard-working guy who took his job seriously, like most of us who will never have movies made about our lives. His job just happened to be beating the crap out of other guys. If it's not a conventional biography of Micky, it's not really a boxing film either, even though it follows all the same plot points as every fictional fight movie you've ever seen. If it were a film for fans of the so-called sweet science, it would have ended with the three spectacularly sour and unscientific bloodbaths he fought against Arturo Gatti. The two sluggers specialized in taking punishment as well as they could dish it out, and they made a habit of sending each other to the hospital. Their first battle, won by Ward, is often cited as the greatest ever, but this alleged boxing film never even mentions the alleged greatest boxing match of all time, and that fact will tell you that The Fighter is not the kind of film that requires a love for, or even any knowledge about, boxing. The minimum standard to enjoy the film is a mere tolerance for boxing. The film never even mentions the legendary Gatti fights, and its not one of those films where you are meant to feel the punches from the audience. The fight scenes in the film are actually quite tame by modern standards.

The real core of the film is the personal and professional relationship between Ward and his fimily, particularly his older brother, the welterweight Dicky Eklund. Dicky had once been considered the star boxer of the family, and had even achieved a modicum of national fame when he floored Sugar Ray Leonard before losing a unanimous decision. Dicky was not the same kind of fighter as Micky. Far leaner than his compact brother, he could never match his sibling's punching power. Only 13% of Dicky's fights ended with victorious KOs, compared to 53% for Micky. But Dicky was fairly effective as an Ali-style fighter, a guy who would dance longer and faster than his opponent, and he employed that style well enough to go the distance with some very tough opponents, including Leonard, Dave Green and Erkki Meronen. (Green was the European champion at one time, and Merronen was 37-1 at one point in his career.)

Eklund had fallen on hard times by the time of his brother's first retirement. Although he was supposed to be training his brother, he had gotten addicted to crack, had become undependable, and had even become a hard-core criminal. Eklund's fall from glory was the subject of a major HBO documentary, High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell. Dicky's incarceration was the back-breaking straw which ultimately pushed his brother into his first retirement. Unlike his taciturn younger brother, Dicky was very cinematic indeed. He spoke in his own form of Yogisms, and was lively, charismatic and cocky. Although brother Micky's personal life was mundane and essentially uncinematic, Dicky's was the polar opposite, a crime film waiting for a camera.

And a conviction.

While Dickys' jail sentence had originally seemed like the end of the world to him and his family, it actually saved his life. With his body and mind force-freed from the debilitating impact of crack, he was able to recover his health and his sanity in prison, and emerged from the experience chastened and straight. As the result of some tricky family negotiations, Dicky eventually re-entered his brother's career, and the two were genuine partners in Micky's subsequent success.

As you might expect, the contrasting styles of the real-life brothers drew radically different actors to play them. The most difficult part of playing Micky was capturing what he did in the ring, and the athletic Mark Wahlberg, who looks like a fighter to begin with, did everything necessary to be as convincing as he needed to be. On the other hand, the family drama didn't center on the quiet, unassuming Micky, so Marky Mark didn't even have to break a sweat to embody Micky. He basically just played Mark Wahlberg, and that happened to fit perfectly. The film's real casting challenge was to find someone to capture the wild and eccentric motormouth that was Dick Eklund. Matt Damon was originally reported to have been cast in the role, and I like Matt's performances very much, but I can't imagine that he could have altered his own personality enough to play the free-spirited Dicky. The role finally went to the obsessive method actor Christian Bale, who went to his usual outlandish lengths to capture every nuance of Eklund's personality and appearance, right down to the bad teeth and bald spot. Although Bale normally weighs around 190 pounds, he (almost) shrunk himself down to welterweight size for this role, and also managed to master Dicky's accent and mannerisms. He even trained at Dicky's own gym in preparation for the fight, and kept right at it after the film was lensed, when he was trying to gain his weight back. Bale's hard work paid off with an astounding and memorable performance which seems certain to earn him an Oscar nomination, and perhaps the award itself.

By the way, Matt Damon wasn't the only famous name to be attached to the film in the past. Before landing the current director, David O. Russell, actor-producer Mark Wahlberg pitched the project to Martin Scorsese, who took a pass, and Darren Aronofsky, who accepted the director's chair then later withdrew, but kept a foot in the door as an executive producer.

It's not a very thoughtful film, but it's an engrossing and entertaining film to watch because it has a solid story populated by colorful characters, all of which are played by top actors. Bale and the other three stars of the film all earned deserved Golden Globe nominations. That group includes Wahlberg, Mellissa Leo as the brothers' stage mother, and Amy Adams as Micky's future wife, a confrontational outsider who finds herself unable to get accepted within the brothers' family clique. Setting aside the fine performances, the script itself passes the Scoopy Prime Directive for biopics, in that it would still be fascinating even if it were entirely fictional. By choosing the right elements to include and exclude in the narrative, the screenwriters were able to use the unaltered facts to create a biography which plays out like a conventional, old-fashioned "underdog triumphs" boxing movie, while at the same time creating a vivid, realistic, and colorful family drama which requires no real interest in boxing at all.

And it's all the more involving because it really happened.

DVD Blu-Ray


2.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
3 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
90 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
79 (of 100)










8.3 IMDB summary (of 10)
A- Yahoo Movies










Box Office Mojo. It had a disappointing opening weekend, grossing $12 million in 2500 theaters, but good word of mouth has produced a multiple of 5x, and it is still going strong as I write this. In fact, it is now in more theaters than on its wide opening, despite the fact that a month has passed!

(A 5x multiple means that the total gross is about five times as high as the gross on the opening weekend. The typical multiple is about 3x.)








  • Amy Adams is seen in a see-through bra.









Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is a film which is considered meritorious by critics and has also resonated with mainstream audiences.