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Friday, 17 December 2010 01:00

"The Fighter" Battles to Reinvigorate the Boxing Genre

"The Fighter" Battles to Reinvigorate the Boxing Genre filmsy.com
Written by Diane Carson
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  • Director: David O. Russell
  • Dates: Opens December 17, 2010

When Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees director David O. Russell signed on to make The Fighter, he certainly knew boxing films clichés and had no intention of merely repeating them. What he, stars Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Melissa Leo have delivered does include some obligatory moments but also probes family dynamics in surprising and gratifying ways.

Based on several 1993 bouts and incidents in junior welterweight Micky Ward's real life, The Fighter explores Ward's working class, down-on-its-luck Lowell, Massachusetts, industrial environment. Micky's world centers on brash, even abrasive, controlling mother Alice; seven ne'er do well, dim-witted sisters still at home; and an ex-boxer, crack-addict half-brother Dicky who trains him. While all tout their support and devotion to Micky's boxing career, he fails to see their negative effects until local barmaid Charlene offers an alternate interpretation to this dysfunctional clan's behavior. Ward listens but has to fight as hard to win the battle against his family as any matches in the ring.

I liked The Fighter for several reasons, including performances, writing, cinematography and sound. Mark Wahlberg, who nurtured and championed this film for years to get it made, consistently conveys a subdued but determined persona. By contrast, Christian Bale as Dicky contains a twitchy, unhinged has-been who can't keep his mind and body on one plane. He's certain to get a best supporting actor nomination. As dragon mother Alice, Melissa Leo is terrifying but I'd have liked more character arc there, and she certainly could handle more subtle nuances. I've been a fan of hers since the great TV series Homicide: Life on the Streets, and am delighted with her many film roles this year showing her amazing range. As Charlene, Amy Adams shows a spunky side to her character, a necessary attribute to face off against the Wards. In a nice touch, Mickey O'Keefe plays himself.

With The Fighter running almost two hours, some scenes, especially Alice's, become repetitive without gradation, and yet, on balance, stronger scenes among multiple characters—in the gym, in the home, in the bar—prevail. Cinematically, the fights in particular have a powerful impact with Russell choreographing them exactly as they occurred, even shooting with the same cameras and cameramen that HBO used when they originally broadcast them. This historical faithfulness makes a difference as The Fighter presents a three-dimensional, lived-in world of aspiration, fortitude and achievement. At many area cinemas.

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