We watch Micky navigate the family from hell.

The Fighter

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            The measure of this movie can be seen in the toll it takes on the audience. When we aren't watching our hero being pummeled in the ring, we must watch him navigate the ultimate family from hell; and the reason for this ordeal is that Mark Wahlberg's central performance is so appealing that we in the audience gradually become his protectors. We want this guy to be okay.
            Micky (yes, no e) is the younger brother of Dicky and the son of Alice - roles that nearly lead to his undoing. Alice (Melissa Leo), you see, had nine children by two men. Seven of these are adult women who are, without a single exception, indolent, sloppy, and absolutely unredeemed. All are waiting for Micky to hit the big time when he is expected to lift the entire family out of its poor circumstances in Lowell, Mass.
Micky is the younger brother and last hope after older brother Dicky crashed and burned following brief boxing success. Flushed with his new heroism, Dicky became a crack head. So the failed, addled, drug addicted brother becomes Micky's trainer while his mother settles in as his manager. Surviving this brother and mother would challenge any man.
            If by now you are deciding against a trip to this movie, think again. David O. Russell's direction is so good, so sure, that the chaos of the small time boxing world and the bickering of the family literally become the soundtrack for the film. Russell shows us that nothing in this family's past has touched them with even the slightest bit of perception. Most never finished elementary school, and none, it seems, has known the gift of a good teacher, a mentor, or family encouragement.
            For Alice, her younger son is a tool for her own crazed ambition. She hasn't the faintest grasp of her own maternal cruelty. Credit Melissa Leo with making us want to drag Alice right off the screen by her hair. Russell's portrait of a mother's favoritism for her more talented but wasted son is achingly tough to watch. Christian Bale demands our attention throughout with his consistent, wild-eyed portrayal of the son who lives on the inflated legend of his former success.
            Amy Adams is marvelous as she invests Micky's girlfriend Charlene with a toughness of spirit born of her own roots in Lowell. And Mark Wahlberg gives his fighter an emotional vulnerability that reaches out an wounds us all. He endows Micky with a primal loyalty to family that works against him while Charlene with clear-eyed love tries to put him in charge of himself.
            The boxing scenes are brutal with crowds hungering for the bloodshed that always comes. The family scenes are nearly unendurable as an emotionally unconscious mother cripples her young. Why go? Go to see especially fine performances by the three leads and for the inspired conducting of all this confusion by director David O. Russell.


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