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Movie review: 'The Fighter' starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale

The fighting isn't just in the ring in 'The Fighter,' as Mark Wahlberg's working-class boxer 'Irish' Micky Ward deals with his destructive family.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / December 10, 2010

Mark Wahlberg (l.) and Christian Bale are shown in a scene from the film 'The Fighter.'

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


David O. Russell's "The Fighter," starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, is an in-your-face – more exactly, in-your-eyes-and-ears – movie about a celebrated real-life blue-collar boxing family.

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Once more, as in "The Wrestler," we have in our midst a movie about fighting as – what else? – metaphor. To its credit, unlike "The Wrestler," the metaphor often takes a back seat to the fighting, though not nearly enough for my taste. (For me, the best fight movie of the year remains Frederick Wiseman's documentary "Boxing Gym," where the fighting isn't a metaphor for anything – it's simply fighting.)

Wahlberg's "Irish" Micky Ward is a junior welterweight from Lowell, Mass., whose career, as managed by his scabrous mom Alice (Melissa Leo) and cokehead trainer and older half brother Dicky Eklund (Bale), is rocky (and "Rocky") at best. Dicky is both Micky's idol and nemesis. Ravaged as he is, he still knows more about boxing than just about anybody else. What he doesn't begin to know is how to manage his own life.

Before he became a habitué of crack houses, Dicky was himself a contender who fought memorably against Sugar Ray Leonard. Now he's being followed around by an HBO documentary crew for what we are initially led to believe is a movie about his "comeback" but is actually an installment in a series on lives wrecked by drugs.

Russell, along with his screen-writers, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, keeps all these characters in a perpetual state of hectic imbalance. The fighters' knockabout lives are all of a piece inside and outside the ring.

Micky and Dicky never quite know from moment to moment where the next punch will be coming from, but we do. That's because we've already seen many of the boxing movies – from "The Set-Up" and "Somebody Up There Likes Me" to "Rocky" and "Raging Bull" – that "The Fighter" draws on.


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