Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

The Fighter

Directed by David O. Russell

With Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo

Opens 12.10

If there's one movie subgenre as calculated to touch the hearts of moviegoers and Oscar balloters as a noble true-life British period drama (see The King's Speech), it's the proletarian true-life sports drama about an athlete who battles alongside and against his family to realize his dream of becoming a winner.

This year's candidate is The Fighter, the saga of the Lowell, Mass., boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), whose goals were to win the welterweight crown and escape the sad shadow of his elder half brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer turned crack addict. Mixing hoke and hope, lower depths and sweet ideals, The Fighter is Rocky plus The Blind Side plus your pick of Boston-area fraternal face-offs (Mystic River, The Departed, The Town). But it's more satisfying than any of them because of its vigor, its affection for all these daft souls and its sense of humor, worn as proudly as the shiner on the smiling face of the guy who just won the match.

Dicky used to be "the pride of Lowell"; it's said he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Now, in his lucid moments between crack jags, he hopes to use the ring savvy he never lost to coach Micky to the top. Their mother Alice (Melissa Leo), who manages her sons' careers, is a mixed blessing. Hard as Wahlberg's abs and with a Ginsu-knife tongue, she wants to keep Micky's comeback a family affair. But she has a rival in his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), another take-charge female who wants to do the thinking for her man, for everybody.

The film was to have been directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also did The Wrestler. But that fight picture wallowed in cliché; David O. Russell, who took over, ensures that this one both embraces stereotypes and transcends them. For all the mouthing off and pummeled flesh, The Fighter revels in a family's crazy passion for the blood sport of staying alive and staying together. The quartet of leading actors deserves a group Oscar for fighting off easy sentiment and landing a knockout punch of zesty humanity.