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Movie Review: “The Fighter”

The Fighter

A masterpiece.

Yep, I said it.

Best, most accurate and realistic fighting and training scenes ever filmed.

Frighteningly good acting.

I give you “The Fighter“.

This is on par with a comic book geek walking out of, let’s say, “X Men 3″, and exclaiming “Oh my God! They got it perfect!” (relax comic geeks, it’s an example. I’m fully aware “X3″ sucked).

Micky Ward was an honest, hard working, tough, determined prize fighter. A 140 pound light-welterweight. But don’t be mis lead; he was not a great fighter. Not even a very good one. He never truly was world champion – he did win a minor title back in 1996  but could never truly compete with elite of the sport.

And yet, anytime ESPN would feature him on a card it would inevitably be one of their highest rated programs of the year. We fans didn’t even need to know who the opponent was.

Irish Micky Ward was fighting. That was all we needed to know.

Why? He was a blue-collar, blood-and-guts kid with the courage of a soldier from Lowell, MA. He never stopped coming forward. He never stopped giving and absorbing punishment. The amount of punches he’d throw was astonishing.

One of my all time favorite ring moments took place in the ninth round of Ward’s first epic – and I do mean epic -bout with Arturo Gatti. It is a round some refer to as “round of the century”. After Ward knocked him down, Gatti came back to push Ward against the ropes, landing hellacious blows.

HBO commentator Jim Lampley: Vicious body shots by Gatti! Ward nods as is to say c’mon! C’mon! C’MON LET’S FIGHT!!!!!

And he had his great game changer, his “money punch”.

The left hook to the body.

It’s what made Gatti look towards Heaven in agony.

It didn’t save him every time. He’d often face opponents too smart and/or too skilled to allow themselves to get touched with it.

But when he did land it flush, oh boy.

When asked once what made that punch so devasating, George Foreman gave a beautiful answer.

“Because he believes in it!”.

And ftr, kids, it’s a horrific, horrific blow to get hit with. After taking my share, I said never mind and found other ways to abuse my liver.

But I digress.

So I was skeptical as to how Mark Wahlberg as Ward would make it look believable.

I’m happy to report Marky Mark did his homework

The movie has been a labor of love for him. As big a boxing fan as yours truly, he grew up not far from Ward who was a neighborhood legend. He reportedly had the script for years. Names became attached and unattached to it but Wahlberg persevered, and we’re all the better for it.

It chronicles the relationship between Ward and his highly disfunctional yet highly important to him, family. Particularly his older, half-brother, Dicky Eklund, portrayed by Christian Bale.

Screw any best supporting actor talk for Bale. This is the best stuff I’ve seen since Denzel in “Training Day” and Daniel Day Lewis in “Gangs of New York“.

He’s that good, and trust me, this time Batman he ain’t.

There were audible gasps in the theatre when he first appeared. You were like what have you done to yourself????

I used to notice Dicky Eklund when Ward would fight. He was his cornerman and head trainer. “Trained by his brother? That’s cool.”, you’d think to yourself.

But he was always a curious looking fellow to say the least. There was some resemblance but Eklund was taller, much thinner, always sort of gaunt and sallow looking.

In the movie we learn why: he was, for years, a one-step-from-the-grave crack addict.

And Bale takes it to the extreme.

A once promising fighter himself – once going the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard (who makes a cool cameo in the film) – the film opens with him being filmed by a documentary crew for HBO. He believes they are there to chronicle his “big comeback”.

It was actually a documentary on how crack addiction was ruining lives in America  (one of the more riveting scenes in “The Fighter” is when it debuts on HBO and we see the horrified/disgusted/aghast/humiliating reactions from Ward and the rest of the family, including his overbearing, controlling mother and his six sisters).

Ward is managed by his said mother who takes the simple approach to it: you don’t fight, no one gets paid. This leads to Ward taking unneccessary fights/punishment/setbacks early in his career.

There was one brutal bout I can remember watching where Ward was thrown in with a last-second replacement who not only fought in a totally different style that the opponent he’d been training for but also outweighed him by twenty pounds. The film recreates it perfectly. The bout lead to him quitting for a time.

The film shows Ward torn between managers and promoters who can clearly see the kid has some talent and star appeal, and his family who are quick to play the loyalty card. One potential promoter approaches Ward with an enticing offer. When the promoter suggests a new trainer, Micky asks “What about my older brother?” to which the promoter replies “He’s just too much trouble”.

Melissa Leo is also Oscar-good as the overbearing manager/mother. She uses guilt and pressure whenever Ward even suggests the idea of handling things differently in his professional life.

Then there is Amy Adams as Ward’s eventual-wife, Charlene; A tough, local girl who steps into to become Ward’s champion and protector.

The scene where he introduces her to his mother and sisters is one for the ages.

Wahlberg himself has said fight fans may be disappointed about how little actual boxing is shown. He has stressed things like “family”, “loyalty”, “achieving dreams” and “overcoming obstacles”.

It has all that, and some killer fight-scenes to boot.

Going again this holiday weekend.

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