Knock-out performances in “The Fighter”

Boxing brothers Mark Wahlberg (Micky) and Christian Bale (Dickie) hug it out. // COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES
Boxing brothers Mark Wahlberg (Micky) and Christian Bale (Dickie) hug it out. // COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Los Angeles, November 20 — It’s been more than a decade since boxing great “Irish” Micky Ward vindicated himself in the ring, overcoming a life of poverty and has-been status with a series of wins that led to his epic victory against Shea Neary in 2000.

This month, Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams bring the gritty story to life on the big screen in “The Fighter.” The film captures Ward’s life in the 90s — stuck in his hometown of Massachusetts, paving streets and nearly forgotten by the boxing world. For a time, getting Hollywood to make the film seemed about as likely as Ward’s comeback.

Wahlberg, who eventually signed on as a producer, said he never gave up on preparing to play Micky while the project was stuck in pre-production limbo.

“I just continued to train,” Wahlberg said at a press conference for the film. “After three and a half years, I felt confident enough to go in there and be believable as a boxer who could possibly win the world’s great title. Had somebody said, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta train four and a half years to make this movie’, I would have said ‘absolutely not.’ The fact that I was just continuing to do it and never wanted to stop because I figured, ‘If I stop, I will be giving up on the movie,’ and I never wanted to do that.”

Bale later joined the cast as Dickie, Ward’s older half-brother and trainer who lost his career in boxing and spiraled into a crack addiction funded by crime. Bale’s Oscar-worthy portrayal as the jittery, aloof, talkative and troubled boxer is eerily similar to the real Dickie. Bale and Wahlberg’s raw performances are even more impressive given that Micky and Dickie were involved in the film’s production, providing input on the story line and character development.

“There were a couple of times I had to physically restrain Dickie from going and landing one right on David. We had some initial interesting times when we were rehearsing in Mark’s house, where Mark very nicely put up Micky and Dickie, and actually they lived at his house for quite some time,” Bale said. “There were some script changes going on, and Dickie wasn’t initially totally understanding that sometimes putting a whole life into two hours, a little bit of license has to be taken and mixing things up.  He wanted everything initially to be absolutely how it was portrayed.  And if it wasn’t, there was a couple of times he would say, ‘I’m gonna go and I’m gonna get him.’ So there’s a couple of times I’d be going, ‘No, no, no.’ Then we’d talk and David would talk with him and I’m not sure if you ever had to stop him from coming and laying one on me.”

“The Fighter” has stellar comedic moments when Micky’s mother, played by Melissa Leo, manipulates her daughters into hating Charlene, Micky’s girlfriend and future wife. The film shows Adams in her most feisty role to date. The actress’ transformation into a smack-talking and fist-throwing bartender whose love pushes Micky to fight for greatness was inspired by director David O. Russell’s doubts that Adams could throw a punch.

“When I got the role, David informed me that I looked like a girl who couldn’t punch, which made me want to punch him,” Adams said. “I actually took a couple boxing lessons…and then we just did some fight choreography. I think it was about not being afraid of hurting anybody. That was my biggest fear. I didn’t want to hurt the girl that I was fighting with.”

The beauty in the film lies in Russell and his cast’s ability to give the audience no choice but to love and be inspired by such deeply flawed and often negative characters. Russell said the story reveals a truth that might be in contrast to the public’s perception of the family.

“I thought they might be some very harsh people that I wouldn’t want to spend 10 minutes with because I remember hearing about Micky Ward,” he said. “Then when I saw him and I heard him talk, I was like, ‘Oh, my god. He sounds much rougher than I expected.’ I expected some sweet-talking Oscar De La Hoya type. The fact is, the people are so unbelievably lovable. I still hang out with them. That’s what goes into the movie.”

“The Fighter” hits theaters Dec. 17.

Nick Maslow may be contacted at