Dir. David O. Russell. USA. 2010.

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David O. Russell's The Fighter is about Mickey Ward, a personality-free junior welterweight fighter (Mark Wahlberg) the working class town of Lowell, Massachusetts whose struggles are as much outside of the ring as inside. Based on a true story, the film revolves around Mick's s relationship with his dysfunctional family that includes his half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), an ex-fighter called “The Pride of Lowell” because he survived ten rounds with Sugar Ray Leonard, his overbearing trash-talking mother, Alice (Melissa Leo) and his repellent seven sisters who are little more than caricatures. Mick worships Dickie who insists he once floored Sugar Ray Leonard, but Dickie has become a crack addict who is unfit for the ring except to act as his brother's trainer. 

A wiry, hyper-active individual, a role at times overplayed by Bale, Dickie is interviewed by HBO who Dickie thinks they are filming a documentary on his boxing career only to find out that it is really a documentary about crack addiction in Lowell. When Mick is thrown into the ring with a fighter who weighs twenty pounds more than him and is beaten to little short of a pulp, Mick begins to open his eyes to the fact that his career is being mishandled. The issue becomes further crystallized when he meets Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), a former college student who works as a bar girl, who tells him that he should accept a promoter's offer to train in Las Vegas, away from the influence of his unstable family. 

Charlene is a tough cookie with a good sense of humor and doesn't back down easily. Her resolve is tested, however, when she has to confront Mick's mother and his seven sisters who hold her opinion in little regard. With Dickie serving a prison term for impersonating a police officer, Mick's turnaround in the ring begins when he hires a local cop to be his manager, leading him to a string of victories and an upcoming title fight in London, England, the emotional high point of the film. The push and pull continues with Dickie, however, when he is released from prison and wants to resume his role as Mick's trainer. Mick's fight is as much for his manhood as it is for control of his career, but the issue is never satisfactorily resolved.

The fights are orchestrated for maximum audience involvement. Somewhat akin to Ali's “rope-a-dope”, Mick is repeatedly pummeled in the early rounds of his fights but comes to life when it seems he is done for. Though this is an unlikely scenario, Russell makes it believable and, at times exciting. Mick, however, is a reluctant warrior who seems strangely out of place in a boxing ring. Comparisons have been made between Rocky (1976) and The Fighter. Rocky was also a gritty boxing movie about an underdog from the wrong side of the tracks who overcomes great odds to become a champion. Rocky Balboa, however, had heart and soul and inspired people to root for him and the film made you feel better about yourself. Though there is some fine acting in The Fighter, especially by Amy Adams, unlike Rocky, we never have much invested in the outcome. 


Howard Schumann

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