"The Fighter"

January 31, 2011 

Maybe not the greatest boxing film of all time, but certainly one of the greatest films of the year — David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” now playing at Premiere Cinemas, packs a hard punch.

It tells the story of Micky Ward — a down-on-his-luck boxer from Lowell, Mass. He’s been overshadowed his entire life by his older brother Dicky (Christian Bale), who could’ve been a great boxer, (he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard), who now hides out in a rundown squat feeding a rabid crack addiction. HBO is filming a documentary about him — Dicky thinks it’s about his comeback, it’s really about crack addiction.

The movie begins with a long list of big defeats for Micky. Defeats at the hand of his brother’s poor training, and his mother’s reckless management. Things change when he meets a beautiful, sharp-tongued bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams). Charlene is an endearing young girl, a sweet face with a foul mouth who warns Micky that his biggest challenge is his own family, and isn’t afraid to voice that opinion. The family is run by Alice, who surrounds herself in a cloud of smoke and hair spray. She spends most of her time in her living room with her mouthy seven daughters. Micky isn’t so much her life but her livelihood. She sets him up for matches he can’t possibly win, forces him to keep Dicky as a trainer rather than take offers to work with professionals, and tries to push Charlene out of his life.

Things come to a head when Micky is offered professional training in Las Vegas. Charlene threatens to leave him if he doesn’t take it. He agrees despite the disdain of his family, but eventually lands a chance to fight for the world title.

The film doesn’t benefit from incredible fight scenes — this is no “Raging Bull,” no “Rocky” — but what it does have is a fascinating group of personalities. Christian Bale is the sort of actor who can morph into anything — here he is a far cry from his work in “Batman” — he’s thin, stupid, unreasonable. Amy Adams, who has played a bubbly Southern belle in “Junebug” and a quiet, reserved nun in “Doubt,” is now a strong, loud-mouthed girl, and level-headed. It takes a real woman to stand up to someone as frightening as Alice, and it’s exciting to watch Adams refuse to back down to the feared matriarch.

Melissa Leo is the film’s real revelation. Here she completely transforms herself — she is the family’s dysfunction. Leo is able to switch from genuine charm to cold, calculated monster.

“The Fighter” is an exciting film, not only for it’s take on boxing, but for its intimate portrayal of incredible dysfunction.

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