'The Fighter' is a winner



Article Published: Dec. 22, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'The Fighter' is a winner

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale star in 'The Fighter.'



frank@mountaintimes.com

It's a classic underdog story, one where you probably know the ending before you've seen the beginning, but, thanks to superb direction and stellar performances, "The Fighter" is a cinematic knockout.

Based on a true story and directed by David O. Russell ("Three Kings"), "The Fighter" takes its boxing movie premise and makes it fresher than Apollo Creed's dry cleaning. Russell has fashioned an emotionally charged story that focuses on the realistic plights of its realistic characters. There's no gloss or pretty packaging, but grit aplenty, as viewers are taken to early '90s Lowell, Mass., home of welterweight boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg, "The Other Guys") and his drug-addled half-brother/trainer, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale, "The Machinist").

Once a boxer himself, whose claim to fame was maybe knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard, Dicky spends more time in a crack house than the gym, neglecting his younger brother's training.

Also in Micky's corner is his opportunistic mother/manager, Alice (Melissa Leo, "Everybody's Fine"), making for a self-destructive team more interested in earning money than Micky's wellbeing, even if it means pitting him against opponents way out of his class.

As such, fighting's not limited to the ring, but also Micky's family life. Enter Charlene (Amy Adams, "Sunshine Cleaning"), a sensible bartender with whom Micky falls in love, helping him recognize his toxic familial/business relationship.

When Dicky's sentenced to time in prison, Charlene, Micky's father (Jack McGee, "The International") and trainer Mickey O'Keefe (playing himself) convince Micky to sever business ties with his mother and brother for the sake of salvaging his career.

And it works, as Micky rapidly climbs in the rankings. This comes at a cost, however, alienating Alice and her coven of chain-smoking, hard-drinking, big-haired daughters, all of whom blame Charlene for the alleged betrayal. (As an amusing side note, one of the sisters is played by Conan O'Brien's sister, Kate; see if you can guess which.)

When a sober Dicky is released from prison, it all comes to a head, as Micky must decide whether or not to continue on his current path - much of which came courtesy of Dicky's tutelage - or accept his family on different terms.

And then there's the fighting. Expertly choreographed to match Ward's actual fights, these scenes aren't stylized or exaggerated, instead mirroring action you'd see in a real boxing match, blow for painful blow.

"The Fighter," however, works not only as a boxing movie, but as an engrossing character piece, as Micky's familial relationship parallels his failures and triumphs in the ring.

This wouldn't be possible without the cast's Oscar-worthy performances, most notably Bale and Leo, though Wahlberg and Adams are absolutely superb.

Each actor lends inspired realism to his or her character, especially Bale, who seems in full immersion mode, with a tweaked-out, jittery demeanor that makes viewers antsy just watching him.

Apparently, the real Micky Ward signed off on Wahlberg's portrayal, and video footage during the credits of both Micky and Dicky reveals that both actors nailed the parts.

The cast members so effectively assume their blue-collar personae that you almost forget they're acting. This goes double for Adams, who's efficiently shrugged her pretty girl demeanor for the sake of authenticity. And it works.

In fact, the whole movie works, making "The Fighter" a contender that, like Ward, deserves recognition where it's due.

"The Fighter," rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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