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FIGHTER, THE (director: David O. Russell; screenwriters: Scott Silver/Paul Tamasy/Eric Johnson/based on a story by Keith Dorrington/Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson; cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema; editor: Pamela Martin; music: Michael Brook; cast: Mark Wahlberg (Micky Ward), Christian Bale (Dicky Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene Fleming), Melissa Leo (Alice Ward), Jack McGee (George Ward), Mickey O’Keefe (Himself), Frank Renzulli (Sal); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mark Wahlberg/David Hoberman/Todd Lieberman/Ryan Kavanaugh/Dorothy Aufiero/ Mr. Tamasy; Paramount; 2010)
“Packs a wallop.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The true story of the junior welterweight boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who hails from the blue-collar town of Lowell, Massachusetts, a bedroom community of Boston. It’s based on the story by Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, and the sharp-edged screenplay is by the authors and Scott Silver. David O. Russell (“Spanking the Monkey”/”Three Kings”/”I Heart Huckabees) directs with great skill this familiar conventional Hollywood boxing story (think Rocky!) about a working-class boxer dreaming about being champ and struggling against all odds to see if he can fulfill his dream. Russell makes it seem fresh and lively, and makes damn sure it’s upbeat and packs a wallop.

The story picks up in 1993, and the 31-year-old Micky Ward is an unassuming nice guy boxer without too much smarts or success, who is managed by his crass controlling mom AliceWard (Melissa Leo) andtrained byhis irresponsible, flaky, former boxer, crack-head, older 40-year-old half brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Micky is loyal to them despite their poor treatment of him and that they’re ruining his career by making bad decisions for him. Dicky’s a legend in Lowell, known as the ”pride of Lowell;” a legend built on a headline fight in 1978 with Sugar Ray Leonard–who might have been knocked down by Dicky or just slipped.

When things look their bleakest Micky falls in love with tough-chick bartender Charlene (Amy Adams), who makes him see how his mom and brother are harming him. Dicky gets arrested for impersonating a police officer during a robbery scam and for resisting arrest, and spends time in prison. This leads to a painful fallout with the dysfunctional close-knit family when Micky gets a new manager, legit local taxi cab businessman (Frank Renzulli), and trainer, the local policeman Mickey O’Keefe.

Christian Bale lets loose with an entertaining eye-popping wild-eyed loony performance, which is in contrast to Mark Wahlberg‘s brilliantly conceived likable subdued performance. Melissa Leo’s loudmouth shrewish performance is a winner as the mother from hell, who raises two boys and seven girls (who follow mom around and as a Greek chorus form a fan club for their boxer brothers). The troublesome family scenes add a splash of low-life zest to a predictable film, that shows in America anything is still possible and that Americans still like to root for an underdog.

When Micky, in his comeback, brings everyone in Lowell together on his side as he fights the Brit champ Shea Neary in London for the junior welterweight title, the punchy scene of togetherness is mixed into the superbly filmed fight scenes for a rosy ending. The film doesn’t follow Micky’s three epic championship fights with Arturo Gatti on HBO, but tells us in its epilogue that Micky married Charlene and lives in Lowell with his daughter Kasie from his ex-wife.

Also thrown into the mix is anHBOundercover documentary on crack-addiction in America, with a segment on promising boxer Dicky Eklund turning into a junkie who is roaming the streets in Lowell–where the industrial revolution started in America.

The Fighter doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, but I loved the acting, appreciated how good the fight scenes looked and thought it got things right as a crowd-pleaser while never forgetting to reflect on how influential is one’s milieu to one’s upbringing.

REVIEWED ON 12/13/2010 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”