January 10, 2011

The Fighter


The Fighter is an engaging sports movie with family drama at its heart. I'm not a boxing fan because I find it too violent. I knew nothing about the real-life characters, yet found myself totally engrossed by the story of Micky Ward's rise to fame. Mark Wahlberg plays the boxer from Massachusetts who wants his chance at a successful boxing career. He is trained by his unreliable half-brother Dicky Eklund, "The Pride of Lowell". Dicky is famous for knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard but has since fallen on hard times. Micky's manager is his mother Alice (Melissa Leo), who doesn't always seem to have her son's best interests in mind. His life changes when he meets Charlene (Amy Adams), a bar girl who loves him but also sees him as her chance to change her life. She encourages him to change his management team and instead train with local police sergeant Mickey O'Keefe (playing himself). He has the support of his father George Ward (an outstanding Jack McGee), much to Alice's chagrin.

Being a former Massachusetts resident, I love watching movies set in the Bay State. But the biggest draw was the powerhouse cast. Mark Wahlberg does an excellent job as the man torn between ambition and family loyalty. (Sidenote: It was strange and amusing to see him with a paunch when he drops out of boxing. I wonder how long it took to lose, and get back, those famous abs.) Melissa Leo's overbearing Alice loves her children---she also has seven wacky daughters, all with hair reaching the ozone layer---but doesn't always make the correct decisions. Amy Adams is the sexy, feisty girlfriend in a role far removed from Enchanted's Giselle. But the film's obvious stand-out is Christian Bale. He gives one of his best performances as the ex-boxer looking to regain lost glory through his younger brother. He is emaciated as the crack-addicted Dicky. Method acting at its scary best, with all the strange mannerisms and Boston accent.

You'll see the usual training and boxing montages, but at its center, the film is about family and the difficult choices we often times have to make in life. The struggles of a working class family, the arguments, the actual brawling were all so genuine. But like any family, no matter how dysfunctional, there were moments of humor and levity. It's a story of how people prevail despite their families and friends. The fight inside a boxing ring is nothing compared to the battles in a toxic family arena.

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