Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Fighter

The famed Micky Ward/Arturo Gatti bouts were among the great trilogies of boxing history, equaled only by Hagler/Hearns and the heavyweight engagements of Foreman/Ali and Ali/Frazier. Ward and Gatti were both brawlers, and Gatti only won the last, tie-breaking fight with a dramatic shift in strategy in which, having broken his hand in the third round, he started to box, meaning that he danced around Ward, making him miss and knocking him off his game. After all, that’s what fighting is about: shutting your opponent down, detoxifying his weapons to the point that he becomes helpless, panics and eventually deviates from his strategy and starts to make mistakes. The curiosity of David O. Russell’s The Fighter, the new film about Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), is that it only mentions Arturo Gatti once. Gatti’s life was perhaps stranger than either Ward’s or his crack addicted trainer and brother Dick Eklund’s (Christian Bale), ending as it did in a suicide that some feel was a homicide. This is not to say that The Fighter, with its emphasis on the effects of drug addiction on talented people (Eklund  had been the pride of Lowell in his youth and had once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard), doesn’t succeed in creating its own drama and subtly interweaving and contrasting domestic violence with the violence of the ring. It’s just that the ellipsis is so pronounced. There is another story to be told, perhaps beginning on the streets of Montreal, where Gatti grew up. Someone should make a movie about the Gatti/Ward conflagrations, and how Gatti ended up dying in a Brazilian hotel room at the age of 37 after an argument with his former exotic-dancer wife Amanda Rodrigues.

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