Joyce Carol Oates offers a sometimes-insightful review of The Fighter in the March 10, 2011, issue of The New York Review of Books. In it she balances valid criticism and praise for the actors but shows little regard for fight fans.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the biopic, at least for viewers familiar with the real-life Micky Ward’s boxing career, is that it ends before his three action-packed bouts with Arturo Gatti. Oates invokes Shakespeare to suggest the dimension of the omission:
Ending The Fighter before the great brawling fights with Gatti is equivalent to ending King Lear before the blinding of Gloucester and the murder of Cordelia: one might do it, and still have a moving story, but why?
One obvious answer is that Ward lost his second and third fights with Gatti, which would deny the film its upbeat ending, but the rhetorical question still makes a legitimate point. As Oates observes, the trilogy made both fighters famous.
Oates also says Ward and Gatti are “enshrined in boxing history” as “boxers who fought heedlessly, desperately, with few defensive skills and much ‘heart,’ to please voracious and unforgiving boxing audiences with a taste for blood.” This seems unnecessarily insulting to the pair’s many admirers, who include people not usually deemed indifferent to boxers’ welfare, such as Senator John McCain, a sincere boxing reform advocate. In a conversation I write about in Fighters & Writers, McCain told me that the “magnificent display of courage” offered by Ward and Gatti represented one of the “uplifting things about boxing.” One needn’t have coarse, savage desires to respect fighters like Ward, as Oates contends.
Even so, Oates confirms the governing premise of my book when she says boxing is “bountiful to its gifted chroniclers.”