The Fighter | The Story of a Real-Life Rocky

Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward, a middling pro boxer, in The Fighter.

David O’Russell and Mark Wahlberg have now made three movies together, and they clearly have a synergistic rapport akin to that of De Niro and Scorsese, Crowe and Scott, and the Coen brothers and John Goodman. The Fighter, a fairly conventional true story of a real-life Rocky, is much more quirky and fun than the vast majority of boxing movies.

The Fighter has a ramshackle charm, filled with awful early ’90s clothes, classic rock, and big hair. But it’s also completely  endearing because it follows average people doing great things.

Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a middling pro boxer, often called a stepping stone. His half-brother Dickie Ecklund (Christian Bale) is his crack head trainer, who was once a boxer himself and claims to have knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Mickey has a brood of big-haired, beer-swilling sisters, and his ferocious manager is his even bigger haired, chain-smoking mother. He’s a gentle soul, living in a blue-collar town and surrounded by basket cases who want to direct his life. Then he meets a sexy, brassy barmaid (Amy Adams) and he begins to turn his life around. That’s about it—a simple boxing redemption story.

What elevates The Fighter (and why it’s such a serious Oscar contender) is its acting. An incredibly naturalistic and appealing actor, Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward with a quiet determination that feels unforced. The big hook of The Fighter is Bale. After years of playing gruff, unbending heroes, Bale seems to be having a ball playing a louche, delusional schemer who’s strangely likeable. The real surprise is Amy Adams, usually known for playing nuns and princesses. Here, she’s totally convincing as a no-BS party girl.

O’Russell directs everyone with a loose, Altmanesque vibe, but drives the action with chugging hard rock. The result is an inspirational sports movie with a buzz.

I don’t think The Fighter deserves best picture, but far worse and more preening movies have won in the past. Wahlberg spent a decade trying to get this movie made, and it’s a testament to his humor and humility that he chose such a crafty director and produced a predictable movie with such an unpredictable feeling. A-

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