Directed by David O. Russell

A true story, give or take, THE FIGHTER is a look at the early years of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother, a well-regarded fighter, himself, who helped train him before going pro in the mid-1980s.

Mark Wahlberg (Micky) was recently showcased in a 60 Minutes segment showing his actual Mean Streets youth and adolescence; echoing his own beginnings, the film is a hard-scrabble slog through ring training and bloody center-ring battles, usually waiting for Micky's coked-out, priapic brother, Dicky Eklund, an outstanding, skinny-as-an-optic-fibre Christian Bale, and homing in on the shanty Irish clan headed by the spot-on Melissa Leo (Alice Ward), who changes so galactically from film to film that you can barely recognize her from one mousy or intransigent or impervious role to another. The believable and plucky Amy Adams, Micky's stolid girlfriend, is a college grad doing barmaid honors in the 'hood in the rough economic weather of the early 80s. As Charlene Fleming, she gets called every name in the book by Micky and Dicky's seven decidedly uncollegiate sisters for interfering in his abusive familial 'training' under the drug-addled Dicky and their indefatigable, if not-so-thoughtful manager, Alice. The clan call her simply Alice, rather than mom, because she is a hurricane-force gale wind, wiping out her husband's–and Micky's–objections to fights or fight-matches, arrangements, set-ups and gigs.

Wahlberg undergoes the punishment you expect. If you heard him speak of his early tribulations as a street tough and thief; here, his fights are gruesome, often against mismatched fighters, until they are not. He has no stunt double, by the way.

Director Russell captures the gritty living of this tier of outliers in the lower-middle-class battle for a toehold. The audience can feel the punches, almost needs a towel for the out-spritzed flopsweat from the onscreen fights. But as often as there are admirable moments in the neighborhood, living conditions, eating habits and even the unceremonial sexual hookups, viewers are more often scrunched in their seats emitting unwonted Oo, ugh, eek! in sympathy with the protagonist, who gets his share of knuckle-jabs to the eye-socket—much like that prior fight film, THE WRESTLER, where Mickey O'Rourke got hammered, torn up and ripped to near-shreds by his rent-a-rink-opponents.

FIGHTER may not be for everyone. Lest you think it's girly-girly delicacy, I very much liked TYSON, which became almost lyrical toward the end of that biopic, and enjoyed WRESTLER, too, because it showed a broader arc of the life and misery of O'Rourke's character, as well as his climb from the depths. I liked MILLION-DOLLAR BABY less, though that is probably because I did not buy lissome Hilary Swank as a prize-fighter (though she too rose from the ranks from trailer-park ramshackle).

This film is well-directed, well cast, and even better observed, but may not be the entertainment some seek for a respite from the wintry doldrums. It casts a chill, when the temperature does that before you sit down to watch.


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