The Fighter comes out swinging

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THE FIGHTER
***
DIRECTED BY David O. Russell
STARS Mark Wahlber, Christian Bale

THE FIGHTER

True to form for controversial director David O. Russell (Three Kings), The Fighter takes a real-life story and turns it into a scrappy, hard-edged motion picture. Its focus is the relationship between Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer with real potential, and his brother-trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a boxing has-been and crack addict holding his sibling back. Micky's manager-mom (Melissa Leo) isn't much better in looking out for her pugilist son's welfare, leaving it to his new girlfriend (Amy Adams) to properly guide him. The Fighter is initially so raw in its approach that it's a shame when it becomes less Raging Bull and more Rocky IV just in time for a conventional fadeout. And while the oversized theatrics of Bale and Leo have already generated Oscar buzz, I actually prefer the more subtle earnestness of Wahlberg and especially Adams (shucking her usual sunshine beaming for an unexpected toughness). Still, all four actors (plus Jack McGee as Micky's sympathetic father) work well in tandem, and Russell and his scripters make the shifting dynamics among the family members ring true. The Fighter doesn't quite go the distance, but it's good enough to last several rounds.

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