The Fighter

Rocky.”

Directed by John G. Avildsen but starring and written by Sylvester Stallone it is impossible to process David O. Russell boxing drama The Fighter without acknowledging the debt of the one to the other. Both celebrate the pugilist, both show a fighter coming from nowhere to somewhere (and both thanks to the love of a good woman) and both tell stories in a post-war funk.

If Rocky Balboa used his fist to bring back American pride dented in Vietnam then Mark Whalburg‘s Micky Ward and his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) reclaim something for the working man of America. Set between the Gulf Wars The Fighter’s unspoken message is about following a path away from a family who’s best intentions might drag you astray and towards more righteousness.

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish of evil men” begging a mention of 1994’s Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, as if you did not know) in which Samuel L. Jackson‘s hit-man Jules Winfield concludes that his tagline phrase is not just something cold to say to someone but might have a meaning at the heart of it, and struggles with that meaning while wearing gorky Beach wear.

As much fun as Jules is Jackson’s work in 1994’s Spike Lee joint Jungle Fever gave us “Gator” Purify the sort of crackhead which The Fighter’s Dicky recalls. Coming off crack himself Jackson found Gator as much therapy as acting but his reward – the first and only “best supporting actor” from Cannes – was recognition of his creation a selfish, evil man.

The sort of man who seems to populate most Boxing movies with the entire cast of Martin Scorsese‘s wondrous 1980 masterpiece Raging Bull best avoided and to pick a film against type would be to single out Ron Howard‘s 2005 Russell Crowe starring Cinderella Man which tells the story of depression busting fighter “Gentleman” Jim Braddock.

Braddock goes from unemployed dock man to World Champion thanks to a left hook developed loading creates and does so in a way which cannot fail to warm the heart. His discovery that manager Joe Gould – an always brilliant Paul Giamatti – has sold every stick of furniture he has to pay for the boxer’s training brings a lump to the throat rather than the lumps to the head that most of this sport’s filmic offerings present.

Braddock though, with his soft focus family of urchins, we admire. Ward’s family of acid washed jeaned and bad haired sisters and overpowering Mother is the true monster he is fighting to escape.

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By Michael Wood in February, 2011.

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