THE FIGHTER: Boxing Clever

Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo. 114 mins.
Rating: Four/Five
In cinemas February 4

Based on the true-life story of a Massachusetts-born underdog boxer Micky Ward, The Fighter has all the makings of yet another Boston-based film about charming blue collar rogues just waiting for their chance to – dramatic pause – make somethin’ of themselves. But thankfully director David O. Russell abandons these clichés in favour of the gritty realities of dysfunctional family life, and while ostensibly a boxing film, The Fighter revolves around the struggles that take place outside the ring.

Set in a convincingly seedy Lowell, Mark Wahlberg plays Micky, a soft-spoken and malleable man who, though capable of defending himself in a boxing ring, is powerless in the face of his overbearing family – in particular his older crack-addicted brother Dickie (Christian Bale). Once the “Pride of Lowell”, Dickie has transformed from a promising boxer into a deluded waster who’s infantilized and enabled by his unquestioningly devoted mother (Melissa Leo). As Micky tries to further his boxing career he’s forced acknowledge that the weight of his brother’s reputation may well be holding him back.

Though The Fighter’s many boxing matches incredibly kinetic, filmed with overexposed television footage and suitably vicious close ups, it’s the characters, not the rounds, that drive the action, and each one of the performances is enthralling. Bale’s hollow jawed, wide-eyed, tick-ridden presentation of the alternately charismatic and pathetic Dickie is riveting, and like most of the characters, he brings just enough pathos to his role to make this largely unsympathetic character immensely watchable. By the end of this typical underdog story, neither Dickie nor any of the characters make any pleas for redemption or give any melodramatic inspirational speech, and yet somehow emerge all the more inspiring because of it.

Imbued with gritty realism, depth and a surprising amount of humour, The Fighter is being called “the greatest boxing movie since Rocky”, but don’t be fooled. This family drama packs a far more interesting punch.
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