Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Mickey O'Keefe, Jack McGee

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 12/10/10 (limited); 12/17/10 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 16, 2010

The important fights of Mickey Ward's (Mark Wahlberg) life do not take place in the ring, but they are just as, if not more, taxing and brutal. He's battling his way out of his older half-brother Dicky Eklund's (Christian Bale) shadow—now physically much thinner but as eclipsing as ever. He has to escape the domineering control of that sibling and his mother Alice's (Melissa Leo) stranglehold on his boxing career, which is more to them (especially on her part) about reminding people that Dicky is still alive and kicking, ready for a comeback at any time.

They are in denial, because Dicky is addicted to crack. The entire family knows it. They all know where to find him when he's late for his role as Mickey's trainer, and when Dicky drops out the back window of the house where he buys and smokes the poison so no one will find him inside, he thinks the feeble ruse works. No one says the words out-loud whether Dicky is around or not.

As much a burden as Dicky is, he's family, and Mickey won't allow anyone, especially himself, get in the way of family, no matter how many unbalanced fights with opponents outside of his weight class they throw his way. He would rather weightier, more experienced fighters pummel him as a "stepping stone" in their own careers than show any disrespect to his family to make any progress in his own.

The Fighter is less about boxing than this familial conflict, which offers two equally absorbing stories in its first hour. There's Dicky's delusional, drug-induced dream of becoming the "Pride of Lowell" again and not as a sarcastic punchline, and then there's the dual nature of Mickey, who's a noted brawler in the ring but can't stand up for his own career or say anything slightly critical of anyone in his family for fear of letting them down.

Dicky has a documentary film crew following him everywhere, as folks come out of shops on the main street of their declining neighborhood in the Massachusetts city to wish him well, cheer him on, and, probably most importantly, get on camera. Dicky once held his own with Sugar Ray Leonard (who appears in a cameo as a fight commentator). His claim to fame is that during that fight, Dicky knocked Leonard down, although there are the realists who point out that the champ tripped. Director David O. Russell throws in the footage for us to judge. From his fighting style and a coda at the end featuring the real brothers, one can garner Dicky's brash personality, which Bale captures in a transformative performance, heavy on fast-talking lies or covers but broken by addiction.

Against that kind of boldness, Mickey can hardly say word one. He's quiet, shy, and only feels any sort of confidence when he's fighting, and even that's starting to dwindle after each, successive, embarrassing defeat. He tries to talk to Charlene (Amy Adams), a local bartender who gets a lot of second and third looks from the male locals, and she dominates the conversation. She's heard things about him—that he's no good as a fighter, his brother's a loser, and he's quickly on his way down the same path to obscurity. Charlene doesn't hold back, and it's only when Mickey gives a guy who disrespects her a quick thumping that she even considers him as a prospect.

Charlene's honesty cuts to the bone. After he gets into a tussle with some cops who whack his face and bash his hand after he tries to help out Dicky, he blows off their planned date, so she just arrives at his doorstep, ready for that date now, if you please. She's exactly the sort of influence he needs, and Adams is somehow sweet and dominant in the role.

Take a scene where Mickey brings her over to meet his family for the first time. His comic gaggle of sisters mock her to her face as some "MTV girl," and when Alice says condescendingly that she's heard a lot about her, Charlene throws the words right back. The tension later erupts into a scrap after Mickey dismisses the people he knows but Charlene helps to show don't really care about him.

Mickey and Dicky's stories run opposite directions of a circle until they round back to meet in a different place. Mickey, gaining independence, realizes he wants his family involved, and Dicky, seeing from the outside how his addiction has ruined his life and the lives of his loved ones, is finally willing to step aside to give his little brother a shot at the spotlight.

This means The Fighter comes down to a set of boxing matches, yet after so much time with these characters, they aren't empty displays of sport. Instead, they are natural extensions to show how far Mickey has come.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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