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FIGHTER, THE

SYNOPSIS:
As a welterweight from the wrong side of the tracks, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) is the pride of working class Lowell, Massachusetts, in the 1980s. Living in his shadow is his half-brother and sparring partner Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). It's part of the Irish pride to let Dicky lead the way and win a championship belt first. However, Dicky is woefully unreliable as Dicky's coach as he plunges into a nightmare of crack addiction, violence and prison. Micky, encouraged by his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) breaks away from his possessive mother Alice (Melissa Leo) and his seven sisters, only to find himself in trouble. Freshly paroled and clean after his enforced withdrawal from crack, Dicky finds redemption training his little brother, now known as 'Irish' Micky Ward, for his Welterweight Championship bout with Shea Neary (Anthony Molinari).

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In his fact based story, a project nursed into existence by Mark Wahlberg, we have a more or less template movie about a struggling boxer triumphant against the odds - but the story offers us two such characters rising from the ashes. Dicky and Micky (Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg) are half brothers; mum Alice (Melissa Leo) must have run out imagination with names for the boys what with seven daughters in the brood.

But while the template is fairly predictable, it nevertheless works - because that's what makes boxing films so engaging and thrilling: the final bout. But before we get there, there are some hum dinger domestics, Dicky's terrible derailment via a crack house and an impossible mountain to climb for Micky the young fighter on whose shoulders rests not only his family's financial well being and pride, but the town's respect and his brother's reason to live. Oh yes, and his boxing career.

These bags give the filmmakers plenty to work with, drawing on the vagaries of real life to add texture and grit of the kind you only find in the belly of the beast - human nature.

Mark Wahlberg is terrific as Micky, a rounded and likeable hero whose journey is dotted with disasters of various sizes. But it's Christian Bale who steal the film with a combusting performance as the gangly, crazed but gifted boxing has been, wannabe and gonnabe trainer to his kid brother. A complex and complete characterisation has Dicky as a nerve jangling and self centred loose cannon finding the starting point for his redemption in jail. Irony that leads to gold.

Melissa Leo is also fabulous as the interfering, bossy, possessive and determined hard case with a soft middle, and Amy Adams excels as Charlene, who went to college only to end up looking at herself as a bar waitress. She provides a pillar of moral support to Dicky, until a family confrontation tears them apart.

But the story ends on a positive note, after a bruising 7 (or is it 8) round welterweight championship fight that leaves us reeling.

Review by Louise Keller:
Based on a true story, this gritty boxing comeback film about "Irish" Micky Ward has more drama involving family than is played out in the ring. It's an unusual story in that although it is Micky's story (superbly played by Mark Wahlberg), it is also the story of his crack-addicted boxer brother Dicky (Christian Bale as you've never seen him before). While there are tense scenes in the ring, the punchiest ones are those involving the two brothers and their out of control, controlling family which is where the film comes into its own. Director David O'Russell captures the conflict beautifully as we become involved in a claustrophobic maze of emotional chaos.

As the film begins, we watch Dicky being interviewed for a documentary, we assume is about his boxing triumph over Sugar Ray Leonard some years earlier. The camera crew follows him around at home, in the car and while training his kid brother Micky. It is not until Dicky is behind bars (after criminal misdemeanours) in an environment that is all too familiar to him that the documentary is televised that we realise it is not in praise of his glories but about his drug habit. This is a potent scene, when Dicky, having suffered the agony of withdrawal and surrounded by his fellow in-mates, watches the doco until he decides he doesn't want to watch any more.

The two Ward brothers come from a family of strong women, headed by their lovingly monstrous mother, wonderfully portrayed by Melissa Leo, whose adoring and blinkered view of the elder son (in a family of 9 children, 7 of them girls) is almost obscene. But soon, Micky has a strong woman of his own in his corner who is, in fact, the gutsiest of them all. Charlene, a college drop out who pulls beers at the local pub, is played by Amy Adams and she is a force to be reckoned with. Adams continues to impress by convincingly delivering yet another character from her repertoire.

Ultimately, The Fighter is a triumphant story against the odds and one that energises us. It reinforces the power of family, irrespective of how dysfunctional that family might be.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

FIGHTER, THE (tba)
(US, 2010)

CAST: Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Robert Wahlberg, Dendrie Taylor, Jack McGee, Jenna Lamia, Bianca Hunter, Anthony Molinari

PRODUCER: Mark Wahlberg, Paul Tamasy, Todd Lieberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, David Hoberman

DIRECTOR: David O. Russell

SCRIPT: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hoyte Van Hoytema

EDITOR: Pamela Martin

MUSIC: Michael Brook

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Judy Becker

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 20, 2010







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