The Fighter Review
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Inspirational real-life sports stories are nothing new. We’ve all seen at least a couple of movies (but most likely many, many more) about a man, a woman, a team, or even a horse who defies the odds to make dreams come true. They’re the things of ESPN specials, made-for-TV movies, and even award season dramas. But while most of them are little more than mildly interesting, some—like David O. Russell’s The Fighter—manage to stand out.

Mark Wahlberg stars as “Irish” Micky Ward, a street paver and aspiring boxer from the industrial city of Lowell, Massachusetts. As the film opens in 1993, Micky is preparing for the biggest fight of his life, trained by his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former pro whose claim to fame is having fought and knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (though some people still claim that Sugar Ray just slipped and fell).

  
 
Dicky keeps telling everyone that he’s about to make his big comeback—but he spends more time at the neighborhood crack house than he does at the gym. And between Dicky’s unpredictable behavior and the careless management of their mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), Micky is close to taking off the gloves for good. But with some encouragement from his new girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams), and the help of a new trainer, he finally starts to turn his career around.

Mark Wahlberg spent years fighting to get The Fighter made—and it was well worth the fight. While Wahlberg gives a solid performance as the struggling boxer, though, it’s often overshadowed by the bigger, bolder, more eccentric performances of his cast mates—just as Micky himself is often overpowered by the strong personalities around him. He’s just a sweet guy who works hard and tries to do the right thing.

Dicky, on the other hand, is the manic troublemaker who tends to get all of the attention—just as Bale’s uncomfortably erratic portrayal tends to steal the spotlight. And the same goes for the rest of their boisterous working class family—from Leo as the domineering matriarch to the seven catty sisters.

But perhaps the film’s most surprising turn comes from Adams, who breaks from the usual sweet, innocent type casting to play a scrappy, no-nonsense bartender who isn’t afraid to throw a few punches of her own. It’s a far cry from the princesses and nuns and down-to-earth love interests of her past—but it’s definitely a welcome (and entertaining) change.

Meanwhile, although the story isn’t much of a surprise, it has the same gritty desperation of producer Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. The surroundings are bleak, and the characters are plagued by addiction and financial instability. And that dreary setting seems to make Micky’s eventual triumphs all the more rewarding.

In the end, The Fighter is definitely a winner. Though it builds slowly, it all comes together in one last adrenaline rush of a title fight. And when the credits roll, it’ll leave you feeling like you, too, could take on any opponent.

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