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Cinema Signal: Flawed, with depressing elements, but of some interest for character-loving fight fans.


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. "The Fighter"

Boxing is more than the ability to enter an opponent's defenses and throw effective punches, more than good footwork and more than body strength. Strategy is as much a key to success in the ring as any of the more apparent skills. It's not a rare strategy for a fighter facing a physically superior opponent to outlast him by maintaining a protective defense into the later rounds when the opponent shows signs of fatigue from all the non-lethal punches he's thrown, and then go on the offense with conserved strength and endurance. There's no shame in it. Champions stay alive doing it. Even such an exalted boxer as Muhammed Ali did it. Oscar De La Hoya was a master at it.

This character-based biopic is about a real fighter who became known by this strategy and did it well enough to reach a title bout. Fight fans may recall an Irish welterweight from Massachusetts by the name of Micky Ward. Writers Tamsey Johnson and Keith Dorrington wrote a story about him. Screenwriters Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy adapted it to a screenplay which is directed by David O Russell ("I Heart Huckabees").

To mention Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg, "The Departed") is to recall, as well, his half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale, "The Dark Knight") who preceded Micky in the ring and, by insistence on big-brother family loyalty, became his trainer and mentor despite a less stellar career and a weakness for crack.

As far as Ward is concerned, his training and bout lineup couldn't be entrusted to anyone but his working-class family, starting with shrill mom Alice (Melissa Leo, "Frozen River") who can never understand how inept she is as his manager and Dickie as his hero and role model--an arrangement that would lead to one disaster after another when he attempts to "go pro" in the mid '80's.

Others, who see the Irish pug's potential, come in to lure Ward away from controlling mom and her brood (including a force of six or so constantly squabbling daughters--not a pretty picture). Among these outside others, there are promoters, Ward's father, and girlfriend (Amy Adams, "Julie and Julia"), whose influence on the fighter (not so much a boxer) is crucial in bringing about the fighter's confidence and decision to finally train with professionals to realize his potential. This result, however, is painfully slow in emerging and highly destructive-- including having a cop mutilate his right hand with a baton as punishment for coming to Dickie's aid when a police squad comes to arrest big brother for his crimes.

As far as sport biopics go, "The Fighter" is unusually out-balanced with family disputes and overwrought ambitions taking more screentime than the fights in the ring. This does the story no favors, immersed as we are in a bloodline of such dysfunctional, self-destructive, self-promoting bozos who make it work to watch. Being subjected to a household like this is indefensible for a pic with commercial aspirations. But, oddly, it comes off as "too real," with what seems raw faithfulness to a family some of us wouldn't want to be around much.

You can pick up a strong scent of the wastrel from the character Bale portrays. In quite a departure from anything he's done in the past, his high-strung, hyper-ego interpretation is based on his study of the real Dickie Eklund (whom we see among the real subjects of the film accompanying the end credits). And, while the characterization is a credit to Bale's acting skills, it's too much of a bad thing for a movie so loaded with them. (No Christian, this is not likely to score you a nomination). [Ed. note: I'll apologize for saying this if I'm proven wrong].

Adams, in true heroine style, enters the family fray to sweetly deliver the much needed sympathetic punch and positive energy to counteract all the negative factors. She's a highlight.

Wahlberg, a go-too actor for having the physical shape to provide credibility on a fight card or get a rhythm up on a speedbag, can easily and naturally develop sympathy for any part that calls for it. Here, however, the strain of his character's interminable wrestling with the dilemma between what feels to him like family betrayal and deeply-committed family fealty ultimately sends the message that he may have suffered one punch too many. In any event, it's hard to admire someone who is so muddle-headed about what's good and bad for himself and it's this viewer's sense of involvement that went down for the count.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
Site rating: 1

This movie is so refreshing and Bale's performance was so superb I find it hard to believe this reviewer does not have a vested interest in giving it a bad review. Maybe a employee of a competing studio. This movie is undeniably GREAT!

                                                           ~~ Craig 
Perceptive
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 7

                                                           ~~ Nony M.
Perceptive
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 4

the movie and acting were better than represented.

                                                           ~~ rich
Perceptive
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

totally agreed about Wahlber'g character and with reviewer's assessment of inability to sympathize with the Micky character. ( and most of his family).

                                                           ~~ jane mc closkey



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Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale
Fighter and trainer, brothers.

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