Rating: MA 15+
Release Date: January 20
Boxing films simultaneously repel and attract me. There is something irrevocably disturbing about a sport where the spectators gather for the specific purpose of seeing one man punch another man senseless. It’s not the sort of past-time parents tend to dream of for their children. But then there are few story types that live up to ringside films for sheer personal heroism – who could forget the characters brought to life by Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, or Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. The Fighter deserves to be in their company.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Mickey Ward, the younger brother of one-time great Dickey Ward (Christian Bale). He has all the skills necessary for a shot at a big boxing title but his career is hampered by a crippling family life. His chain-smoking mother acts as his manager, setting up fights that he has little chance of winning because of the prize money involved, while reveling in Dickey’s bygone glory. Dickey, his trainer, is now a crack-head who can’t be relied on to turn up at the gym or the all important prize-fights.
Mark Wahlberg continues to amaze with his versatility. Mickey’s on-screen character is made up of palpable confusion and dogged loyalty. But Wahlberg’s fine performance is overshadowed by Christian Bale’s remarkable creation. Bale disappears inside Dickey’s delusional character, leaving the audience with a real sense of how pitiful the life of an addict can be. It’s an interpretation worthy of Daniel Day-Lewis.
However the film’ biggest pay-off is to be found in the questions it raises about family. We live in an time when blood ties have come to mean less and less to people distanced from their relatives by fractured communities and demanding careers. The Fighter challenges its viewers to honour the families God has placed us among, even if they prove unworthy. Mickey refuses to be manipulated by his family’s “You can’t do that to us!” accusations, but neither will he kick them to the curb. He both needs his brother, and recognizes his brother’s need for him. In an age where it is all about breaking family ties in favour of personal achievement, Mickey insists he needs the former if the latter is going to mean anything at all.