The Fighter, directed by David O Russell, is more than just a boxing movie. It’s as much a tense working-class family drama that delivers emotional punches outside the ring.

Set in Lowell, a small town in Massachussetts, the film is based on the true story and career of “Irish” Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his attempt to win the world light welterweight title. Training him is his older half-brother Dicky (played by Christian Bale), himself a former boxer who was once the pride of his community, but is now addicted to crack. With Dicky’s drug problem overshadowing his brother’s training, Micky is on a losing streak.

It’s Micky’s well-intentioned girlfriend Charlene (played by Amy Adams) who points out to him that to triumph inside the ring, he must first take on his spectacularly dysfunctional family, which includes his ferocious manager-mother Alice (played by Melissa Leo), and his seven tough, unmarried sisters.

Held up by remarkable performances from its cast, The Fighter works despite the fact that it’s a rather predictable story. Christian Bale is hard to take your eyes off as the skinny, hyper-animated Dicky Ecklund, who is at once infuriating, pitiful and comical. And few scenes are as thrilling as the ones in which Charlene clashes with Alice and her daughters, because the ladies throw themselves into their parts so convincingly. Strangely, the film’s least interesting character is Micky himself, who’s mostly passive and is usually the last person your eyes go to when there are others on screen. Mark Wahlberg, who’s produced the film too, plays Micky earnestly, but never shines in the way that the others do.

With its kitchen-sink drama approach, The Fighter has a TV-movie feel to it. Lacking much visceral impact, the boxing scenes are no match for those in Scorsese’s Raging Bull or even Stallone’s Rocky, but they do the job. The film is watchable until the very end because it expertly shifts between the gritty realism of working-class life and the kind of ‘triumph-against-all-odds’ ending that this kind of material demands.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Fighter. Watch it if you’re a fan of sports films, but definitely watch it if you’re not a sports fan because the only real matches that matter in this movie are the ones between family!

 

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