I can't present it as fact, but I'd venture to suggest that all men my age love Rocky films. Before it all got a bit silly, Sylvester Stallone's original rags to riches tale was an inspiration for a generation. Go on, admit it, at the very least you left the cinema belting out the famous theme tune and shadow boxing with your mates.
'The Fighter' could do the same for this generation, but I had hoped for and began to expect so much more. The film charts the true-life rise to prominence of former Light Welterweight champion Micky Ward, who battled all manner of adversities thrown at him by his dingbat family to beat Liverpool's Shea Neary to secure the WBU crown. Yet having fulfilled that aim so beautifully to a point, the film then takes a worrying diversion down Rocky Road. From musical training montages and unrealistic climactic fight scenes, right down to the freeze-framed moment of glory, 'The Fighter' decides at some point that it must pay homage to it's 1976 Oscar-winning predecessor.
And it's unwise to have done so. The better part of this film is a moving, well acted, genuinely human story. While Mark Wahlberg delivers a confident performance as Ward, acting honours are carried off serenely by Christian Bale. The Batman madman turns in a fully believable performance as Ward's half-brother Dicky Ecklund, himself a former fighter. Ecklund's bitterness at having failed to build on knocking down the great Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight he would go on to lose lead him to a life of crack addiction and violent crime. As such, the story is as much his as Micky's. His is the real tragedy.
All of which personality weaknesses mean that as Micky's trainer, Dicky continually drags his brother down with him. He fails to turn up for sessions and promotes impossible fights against men two stones heavier, yet Micky sticks by him for far longer than this viewer was comfortable with. There's further family interference from the pair's mother Alice, who calls herself Micky's manager but is seemingly as manipulative and selfish as Dicky. It's here that the film really starts to examine it's central theme, that of the importance of family and the moral dilemmas that can ensue between pleasing them and doing what is best for oneself.
Pulling Micky in the other direction is girlfriend Charlene, played more than adequately by Amy Adams, of whom there are at least two gratuitous but potentially prize-wininng posteria shots. Notwithstanding that, you are very much in her corner as she struggles to prise her man out of the clutches of the increasingly manic Dicky, Alice and a gaggle of trailer-park trash sisters who make The Simpsons' Patti and Selma look like The Corrs.
Ward's career never really kicked on from his dramatic victory over Neary, though he went on to take part in three epic bouts with Arturo Gatti between 2001 and 2003. In many ways his fate mirrors that of this film, never quite hitting the heights that it could have had it shown a little more focus. Perhaps the director was persistently bothered by some Dicky Ecklund-esque screenwriter, persuading him to take the more sensational path to Box Office glory.