'The Fighter,' based on the life of fighter Micky Ward, is a true knockout.
Boxing fans that have spent time in Atlantic City know Micky Ward as one of the toughest fighters to ever mix it up in the ring, including three legendary battles with the late Arturo Gatti.
The Fighter, directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings) and starring Mark Wahlberg as Ward and Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund, Ward’s half-brother and trainer, takes a long, fascinating look at Ward’s life outside the ring as well as inside it.
Movie critic shorthand would be to say that this story, about a fighter whose family is too involved in his life and career, is a real life Rocky.
When we first meet Ward, in his tight knit working class town of Lowell, Mass., his boxing career is taking a nosedive. With his mother (Melissa Leo) as his manager, and the older brother he idolized spending more time at the local crack house than the gym training him, Ward has been set up for failure in the ring. With his mom, brother and seven busybody sisters telling him what he should do, the man who has to take the punches doesn’t have much say in his career.
It would be too easy to call this a dysfunctional family. A better description would be a family that lives life at the top of their lungs, with Micky as the quiet one in the middle.
Ward doesn’t seem to have a chance, but the love of a good woman (played by Amy Adams) and the advice of his mentor outside the family ring — Mickey O’Keefe, a Lowell cop who plays himself in the movie — give him a clear view of a successful future.
The film follows the standard arc of a boxing picture; the ups and downs followed by the moment of triumph in the ring and in life. Director Russell and his superb cast manage to bob and weave around the clichés to make the story resonate beyond the standard confines of the genre.
Bale is fascinating as a drug addict who is more aware than most of what he has lost and what he might gain if he gets off the pipe for good. Melissa Leo, as the stage mother who directs Micky’s life without any input from him, takes this showy role and chews through the scenery like a beaver on crack — but in a good way.
Wahlberg is the generous man in the middle. His calm is the nice contrast to the insanity generated by his family. Too often the quiet acting doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, but without his contribution, Bale and Leo, both pegged as surefire Oscar nominees, would not shine nearly as brightly.
The Fighter wins the heart of the audience with a unanimous decision.
Directed by David O. Russell;
To read more about movies and other topics covered by movie critic Lori Hoffman visit the ‘Atlantic City Central’ blog at http://blog.acweekly.com/
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