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Review: ‘The Fighter’

More Oscar Bait

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg are brothers in

Credit: Paramount Classics

Above: Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg are brothers in "The Fighter."


The critics on the KPBS Film Club of the Air discuss "The Fighter."


You can tell it's Oscar season by the amount of scenery being chewed in the holiday releases. The latest is "The Fighter" (opening December 17 throughout San Diego), about real life fighter Micky Ward. You can read my review or listen to our discussion on the KPBS Film Club of the Air.

"The Fighter" may be based on a real life story of two boxing brothers but it's as believable as "Rocky." That's not entirely a criticism. But it's meant as a way to help set your expectations. "Rocky" was set in Philly and drew on the neighborhood for local color. Similarly, "The Fighter" shot in Lowell, Massachusetts where its story takes place and draws on the people and location to enliven its predictable boxing tale.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Paramount Classics

Mark Wahlberg as fighter Mickey Ward.

Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) was a welterweight boxer from Lowell who is probably best remembered by fight fans for a punch to Shea Neary's kidneys and for a trio of bouts with Arturo Gatti. Ward's older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) was also fighter. He was dubbed "The Pride of Lowell" for going the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard and knocking him down (see part of the fight here). We pick up with the two brothers as Eklund is trying to train his brother for a fight. But Eklund is also a crack addict and not very dependable. Ward is also being managed by his mom (Melissa Leo) who places the family finances above Ward's well being when determining which fights to take.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Paramount Classics

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in the ring in "The Fighter."

"The Fighter" works best as an entertaining tale of chaotic family dynamics. The fight footage is mostly bland and mundane, and we get little insight into the boxing world. But the relationship between Ward and Eklund is fun to watch especially with Wahlberg and Bale. Bale's performance is over the top at times. But a clip of the real Eklund at the end of the film suggests that it might not be that over the top. It's a nervous, squirrelly performance that's both funny in its exaggeration and touching in its quiet moments. Wahlberg's job is more to play straight man to Bale so he downplays most of the time.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Paramount Classics

Part of the gaggle of girls in "The Fighter."

Also in the over the top range is Leo as the Mom. She and her Greek chorus of daughters are hilarious. They may offer more caricature than realism but then this film is not a gritty, real life drama – it's a Hollywood fable of success. But it's interesting to note that the character of Mickey O'Keefe, a local cop who worked in Ward's corner, is played by the real guy. So not everyone in the film is overplaying their role.

Director David O. Russell dazzled viewers with his 1999 film, "Three Kings," but has never managed to surpass or even come close to that film's success. In "The Fighter," he invests the family scenes with energy and he keeps the story moving at a brisk pace. He doesn't reveal any flair for capturing fights in the ring but proves more adept showing us family brawls.

"The Fighter" (rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality) is a film that Boston-born Wahlberg has been fighting to make for a number of years. The result of his five-year battle is not a great film by any means but it is an entertaining one.

Here's a video of the real brothers talking about the film.

Companion viewing: "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell" (the HBO doc featuring Dicky Eklund), "The Wrestler," "The Champion," "Rocky," "Rocky Balboa"

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