Review - The Fighter

BROTHER BOTHER Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale seek glory in The Fighter

In the films of recent years that have taken place in and around Boston (see DVD & Downloads, page 66), the location isn't just a setting, a row-house look, or an occasion for showy pahk the cah accents. It's a state of mind. And in no recent movie has that state of mind been more colorful, more blood-tie pungent, more tribal than it is in The Fighter. A true-life rise-of-the-underdog boxing saga, directed with volatile handheld immediacy by David O. Russell (Three Kings), it's set in Lowell, Mass., the working-class Beantown satellite city that, if anything, incarnates the proudly parochial, macho Irish Catholic essence of Boston more purely than Boston does.

The central figure, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), is an up-and-coming welterweight who is being groomed to become the next ''pride of Lowell.'' The original pride of Lowell is his older half brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a local boxing legend-turned-layabout who cemented his 15 minutes of glory back in the '80s when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in the middle of a headline bout. But did he really knock him down, or did Sugar Ray just trip? That very confusion is presented as the epitome of Lowell, a city of tough, bruised underdog egos who are forever fighting for their status. When Micky, muscular and ambitious, a little shy but determined, goes down to the gym to spar with his retired bro, who has been training him for this moment ever since Micky was a kid, he seems to have everything going for him. In reality, though, he has everything hanging over him: the mythical status of his brother; the expectations of his feisty, clinging family — his domineering manager mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), and half a dozen frowzy, big-haired sisters; and the mystique of Lowell itself. To complicate matters, Dicky, once a hero, has devolved into a fractious, motormouthed crack addict who hides his addiction behind a brashness that's a half step from craziness. He comes on as Micky's ally but may, in fact, be his greatest liability. Can Micky cut him loose to become the champion he was meant to be?

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