The Fighter

David O. Russell's The Fighter is a superb boxing movie that doesn't have a whole lot of boxing in it -- at least not the type that goes on in a roped ring. Most of the sparring in the film is between a quartet of exciting heavy hitters -- Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo -- which isn't to say their battles are any less bloody than those staged in Atlantic City, Vegas and London. In fact, if you listen carefully, you can actually hear the crunching of bone and tearing of sinew as these champion performers hurl their anger, bitterness and frustration at each other and the world they can't seem to affect quickly enough.

Wahlberg and Bale play boxing brothers in a large Lowell, Massachusetts, family that has investing its hopes and dreams in the two sons. Bale's Dicky became a town legend when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard during a bout, although the circumstances of the champ's tumble has been disputed. Dicky is now a washed up and washed out crack addict whose only obsession other than scoring rocks is training his younger brother Micky (Wahlberg) to a boxing title, two pursuits which appear to work in opposition to each other. He's walking disaster for himself and his family. Wahlberg, who appears to be a favorite of Russell's having appeared in the director's Three Kings and I (heart) Huckabees, delivers one of the most focused performances as the conflicted but devoted younger brother. He is the heart of the picture.

Melissa Leo (a personal favorite of mine since her days on Homicide) plays Alice Ward, mother to both Dicky and Micky, and a creature of singular domineering neediness -- an inspired character and performance.

And the redoubtable Amy Adams plays Micky's love interest and muse whose flintiness ignites her boyfriend's desire to free himself from the control of his enmeshed and carnivorous family and try to chart a course of his own design -- and take her along with him.

Yes, Russell does stage three exciting boxing matches, and they are filmed smartly and economically, and all in service to this true story of love and liberation. It is a terrific movie.

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