The Fighter is a movie that is not necessarily about boxing, but more about family, friends, and how these factors must coexist in order to achieve one's full potential. Mickey (Mark Wahlberg) is a boxer of middling skills. Throughout the movie we see him rise up to become a greater person and a greater boxer, but this is growth is not acquired through practice, it comes with him resolving all of the emotional crises that comes with having a domineering family, a prideful and superior big brother (Christian Bale), and a tenuous relationship with those few friends he makes outside of the family.
Thus, unexpectedly, I found that this is as far away from a boxing movie as you can get. Boxing and the drive to become better at it is present, but it merely acts as a device within which Mickey can overcome his own personal demons. This manifests specifically with the unhealthy relationships he has with his family and his brother. Thus, strangely, Mickey's family and brother end up being more important and centric to the story than he does.
The Dysfunctional Family
I'll say one thing for The Fighter; it showed me one of the most messed up families I've ever seen in a movie. As far as I could tell, nobody in Mickey's family actually has a job aside from him. Selflessly, Mickey slaves away at his boxing career just so he can paid and then support his family. Normally, this would be a charitable act and wholly good. But, in this context, his family exploits him and supports him only insofar as getting him to the next fight and thus the next paycheck. It is this selfishness which the family must overcome throughout the movie, and it is Mickey's own dedication to his family that he has to stretch more rationally so as to not be taken advantage of.
A big part of the problem here is the fact that Mickey is completely unappreciated by his family. His family lauds his older brother, Nicky, as the hero of the town for his long since passed boxing career, leaving Mickey ignored by the wayside. Consequently, a major development in the movie is Mickey breaking free from this oppressive relationship with his family and reaching out to friends, particularly his girlfriend, who is wholly opposed to what Mickey's family is doing to him.
However, The Fighter doesn't just stop there. Through Mickey's relationship with his girlfriend, we see that she can be as demanding of him as his family; she wants him to break completely free from them. Thus, the major resolution in the movie comes from Mickey's goal in finding the best of both worlds, getting his friends and family to get along and realize that they need to get over their respective pettiness in order to be healthier people, and in order for him to get the happiness and confidence he needs to win the championship. Which, being a boxing movie, he of course wins at the end. This complexity in relationships, friendships, and family gave the movie astonishing depth; none of Mickey's friends/family are altogether bad people, but they all have to grow on their own in order to progress in life.
The Legend of the Past
A major role in the movie is that of Nicky, Mickey's older brother. Through Nicky we see a number of concepts played with and taken to their end. He is a man who lives entirely in the past of his glory days, an epic boxer from a time long since gone. Nicky is immensely skilled at boxing, and seeks to train Mickey so that he himself can become great. But Nicky has major problems of his own. He is so caught up in the past that he can hardly go a day without bragging about a knockout he made over a decade ago. Nicky feeds off his family's adoration of him, using it to justify his other hobby, smoking crack.
Nowhere else have I seen a movie that so clearly takes one through the nasty consequences and evils of crack addiction. This, along with Nicky's immense pride, dominates his character, and it isn't until he is able to overcome it that he truly begins to grow. Nicky shows us a cautionary tale of getting to absorbed in days and events that occurred long ago, along with the ability of drugs to ruins one's life.
It is hard for me to figure out what to think of The Fighter. From my perspective, this didn't even need to be a boxing movie to tell the story that it told. The boxing background and training is omnipresent, but it didn't feel like the center of attention. Instead, that position was taken by Mickey's constant struggles between him, his brother, his family, and his girlfriend, and learning how to get along with them. This makes for an interesting and raw emotional story; family/friend struggles are nothing if not painful. And, to that point, it was an incredibly effective film.
However, for something depicted as a boxing movie, it failed in that regard. The fights and their outcomes were utterly predictable and seemed to distract from the focus on mending relationships. This could just have easily been a movie with Mark Wahlberg as an up and coming lawyer, politician, businessman, sports player, or anything, and still told the story it did about family and friends. Yet, I think I see why they chose boxing. This movie isn't named The Fighter just for that; it is a movie about fighting to become a better person, encouraging people to grow and get along. So, as Mickey fights in the ring, he fights at home, and his performance in both areas mirror one another.
But really this is me just speculating and reaching at straws to try and justify the movie's odd combo of boxing and family strife. While I may have come to that intellectual conclusion now, during the movie it just didn't seem clear. However, this is definitely a good movie and worth seeing, particularly if the family/friend focus is of interest. For boxing, however, I would suggest something else. Cinderella Man, perhaps.
+9 for a raw and emotional story about personal growth and getting friends/family to work together.
-1 for the boxing part not being particularly interesting or necessary for the story.