The Fighter reviews

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Postby Sabin » Wed Jan 12, 2011 6:53 pm

(Damien @ Jan. 12 2011,5:37)
It’s a shame that, as Sabin points out, the Wahlberg/Adams courtship is given short shrift (and the scene at Belle Epoque is kind of an embarrassment).

Wahlberg does a very good take on PASSED THE FUCK OUT DURING A MOVIE though.

It's not just that the Wahlberg/Adams courtship is given the short shrift, it's that the film has absolutely nothing to say about whether or not he belongs with his family or his new love or how he makes decisions or what he needs. Ultimately, these are things I kinda need.

Weirdly, Amy Adams seems more at home in this part of Boston than Melissa Leo who telegraphs her characters' ugliness even while the script stops short. An actress like Margo Martindale or Celia Weston would bring a more suffocating compassion that was missing from Leo's performance. I have no idea how she could be considered any kind of front-runner.
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Postby Damien » Wed Jan 12, 2011 6:37 pm

I went to this film essentially out of a sense of duty to see an Oscar contender, not expecting much as I haven’t particularly liked David O. Russell’s pictures and sports uplift movies give me a pain. What a surprise – this is a terrific movie! The working class ambience is impeccable and the interactions among the people inhabiting the film’s world never ring false. Some of the characters perhaps occasionally flirt with being stereotypes, but the writing is so rich that each remains a unique flesh-and-blood figure (and the fact that no one in the film is absolutely good or lousy is both an admirable directorial accomplishment as well as a perfect rendition of how Mark Wahlberg’s character sees those around him. And what a lovely self-effacing performance Wahlberg gives, pitch-perfect as he quietly, confusedly reacts to the more flamboyant other characters. The amazingly versatile Christian Bale never hits a false note in a role with which lesser actors (which is to say most actors) would have gone over the top, and as for Amy Adams it’s hard to believe that this tough-talking bargirl is the same actress who played a cartoon princess and a naïve nun. Only Melissa Leo doesn’t seem like the real deal; as was the case in Frozen River, she enacts a lower class character, she doesn’t inhabit her. And the quartet of sisters who act like a blue collar Greek chorus, Lord they’re a sight to behold! It’s a shame that, as Sabin points out, the Wahlberg/Adams courtship is given short shrift (and the scene at Belle Eopoque is kind of an embarrassment). Russell and company are extremely effective at delineating the conflicting obligations of familial love and loyalties and the need for self-realization. Of its many virtues, perhaps what’s most impressive is how remarkably unsentimental it is, an attribute almost unheard of for this type of film. It really is lovely.


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Postby Mister Tee » Sat Jan 01, 2011 6:10 pm

Uri wrote:A revelation is an exaggeration, but Adams certainly manages to impressively convey the toughness and resilience of this character without a trace of cutesiness, which is nice, and I wouldn't mind seeing her being nominated (though I've hardly seen any of the other contenders yet).

Even as I was typing it, I thought revelation might be too strong a word. What I meant to convey was this: Adams was going to get attention merely for transcending her image, a la Shirley Jones/Elmer Gantry. That she, on top of that, created a full-bodied character who'd be seen as interesting/nuanced even if it were within the actrress's normal range struck me as a step beyond. I'm starting to think this woman can flat ACT.

As opposed to "ACT", which I gather is what you see from Christian Bale -- and I don't entirely disagree. I think we might see, on this performance, something of the dividing line we got in the discussion of Streep in Sophie's Choice: many wowed by the sheer intensity of the acting going on, others thinking there's so much acting there's no room for a human being. History suggests there will be substantially more of the former, but the latter will make their voices heard as well.

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Postby Uri » Sat Jan 01, 2011 4:00 am

This is definitely a respectable film, which has a lot of accomplished stuff in it, but unfortunately in this Rocky meets Gone Baby Gone, it's Rocky which eventually wins – not by a knockout – far from it – but still, the banality and formulaic nature of the outcome of this story outweigh the intriguing grainy feel one gets from the way this family and its milieu is being depicted.

And an important part of the good stuff is certainly the acting. A revelation is an exaggeration, but Adams certainly manages to impressively convey the toughness and resilience of this character without a trace of cutesiness, which is nice, and I wouldn't mind seeing her being nominated (though I've hardly seen any of the other contenders yet). But it's Leo who, admittedly having the flashier role, is the standout here. She's all over the place, but she's in full control of it, and she manages, by infusing intelligence and humor into this woman, to give a performance which is simultaneously over the top and subtle.

Now – as is the case with any of his films I saw for the past decade or so, I came in wanting to admire Christian Bale, an actor I feel, based on his early career, has or at least had the potential to be a great one, and certainly an extremely charismatic one. But once again, he is so laborious, so self-consciously committed, somehow the life seems to be sucked out of the character he's playing. Unlike Leo, his obvious humorlessness is hurting his ability to fully realize the vividness of this character which is so apparent in the real life footage seen in the end. But, it is an actor-proof role and it's certainly an intense performance, so it's easy to understand the admiration it gets. And once again, it's another case of preferring the Paul Munis over the Carry Grants – Wahlberg's lovely, natural lived in performance is being overshadowed by Bale's fireworks. It's his presence which really makes this film works. And he should be credited for it.

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Postby Greg » Thu Dec 30, 2010 1:59 pm

Mister Tee wrote:But this year you have at least four films -- Social Network, Black Swan, Fighter and King's Speech -- that are being widely seen and would have been popular best picture candidates under the old system.

I also think that Inception, a true blockbuster, would have been nominated this year if there were only five slots; and, Toy Story 3, the biggest blockbuster of the year, would have had an outside shot at a nomination.
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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:26 pm

I'm apparently becoming a soft touch. After two straight years where my enthusiasm for the major Oscar contenders was rather wan, I find I'm liking 2010's crop more than most. I'm among the (seeming) minority that thinks The Social Network IS a very good, if not revelatory, movie; I found Black Swan a bracing experience, whatever ambivalence I had about its content; and today I enjoyed the hell out of The Fighter.

It's interesting to me to read people describe this film as generic or unoriginal. I suppose that might be the case if you view it as the story of a kid summoning it up to win a fight-class championship. But, honestly, I didn't experience it that way at all. For me, from the very opening frames, I felt I'd been thrust into a film about a life/family/society where boxing was the milieu but not the sole or even primary context. When the final ten minutes or so rolled along, I realized, yeah, he must win here, or they probably wouldn't have made the movie. But I didn't feel the film had been building inevitably from the start to that climax -- any more than, say, I felt Gosford Park had been building to a murder. In both films, I was so taken by the milieu, the characters and their interactions that I was swept happily along by all that without a thought of where a story was going. I loved the small incidents and funny throwaway dialogue...and the great energy with which Russell orchestrated it all. I barely think of The Fighter as a boxing movie at all.

If I had to reduce "what is it about?" to a sentence, I'd say it's the story of a guy who grows up amidst a cacophony of loud influences and eventually learns to select what he needs from each element, modulate the rest, and get his life on track. And in that context, the title is almost ironic -- "fighter" may describe Micky Ward's profession, but it doesn't remotely describe his character. In fact, you could make the case, given the cantankerous crew surrounding him, that he's the only character in the movie who DOESN'T spend every waking moment essentially fighting.

This possibly creates the feeling among many that Wahlberg's performance is the least interesting/most passive in the film, but I think that's somewhat unfair. It's not that Wahlberg isn't quite good; it's that he looks paler next to three such dominant roles/performances as those undertaken by Bale, Adams and Leo. Christian Bale's Dicky is a scene-stealing character (the brief real-life shot at the end suggests Dicky in the flesh was the same); I think any decent actor would have done something impressive with such a flashy role. But there's no denying Bale is quite memorable. I had some trepidation about Melissa Leo, given how often the word "broad" was thrown around to describe her work. But, for me, she stood right on the not-quite-too-much line and never slipped over -- she's big and irritating and somehow endearing. And then there's Amy Adams, who's a revelation: not only a complete image-change, but utterly believable and nuanced within that new persona. I'm with BJ: I can imagine any of these three walking home with an Oscar -- and would be happy to applaud them. (Kudos to the many small-part actors, as well. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this movie win the SAG Ensemble prize -- which up till now I'd thought was Social Network by a wide margin)

It's odd: the Board of Governors expanded the best picture list to ten because they wanted to get more popular films in. After a few years of anemic grossers like Frost/Nixon or The Reader, you could see their point. But this year you have at least four films -- Social Network, Black Swan, Fighter and King's Speech -- that are being widely seen and would have been popular best picture candidates under the old system. I fear the old saw about generals fighting the last war has come true again.

Anyway, a big thumbs up for me; one I fully recommend.

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Postby Sabin » Wed Dec 15, 2010 8:50 pm

I mentioned earlier that Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams never really get that privacy they need to truly endear them to us, the kind that, say, Matt Damon and Minnie Driver had in Good Will Hunting, or any number of other screen couples. The film suffers for it, and it places Adams in the role of the tough as nails girlfriend. I don't really buy her as living in the same boston as everyone else with how ungodly beautiful she is, but her attitude is incredibly endearing. I truly cannot believe that the film failed to find more time between Adams and Wahlberg. It makes their performances a tad center-less.

I blame the script for that lack of center, and for keeping me on the outside of Melissa Leo's character, which approaches caricature at first but reveals something deeper. However, she reveals it on the margins of the scenes, not within a story that allows her to fully exploit it. I was very pumped upon leaving, but The Fighter is a B- because of the energy that Russell injects into a story that does become rather rudderless as it goes along. The only person who gets a true arc is Christian Bale.
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Postby The Original BJ » Wed Dec 15, 2010 8:03 pm

I don't really have all that much to say about The Fighter. It's fine. But for a movie generating real enthusiasm, I found it to be a mostly generic affair. I think Russell directs the material with a little more roughness than the director of a standard studio production likely would have, but this can't entirely compensate for the unoriginal nature of the material. I know, I know -- it's based on a true story. And to the film's credit, it doesn't feel false or phony. But for me, the narrative wasn't nearly exciting enough to truly engage me -- I wouldn't be surprised if the writers' branch ignored it come Oscar time.

What did excite me? The trio of supporting performances that have been justly acclaimed. I think all three are not only very likely nominees, but all could be possible winners. Bale's cracked-out has-been fighter is really endearing -- both funny and tragic -- and he's got a clean-up-my-act arc that has true emotional resonance in the film's last act. Amy Adams could have played this role with her trademark sweetness, but she complicates her character by giving Charlene an unexpected mean streak. (Her "I like my life" scene on the porch is a particular standout, as the actress expresses this sentiment with enough ambivalence that you're not entirely sure whether she means it or not.) And Melissa Leo's loving, tough-as-nails mama provides this hard-working character actress with her best role yet, with a kitchen sink outburst that could become a fairly oft-played awards clip.

So, definitely worth seeing for the performances, but I'm not as high on this one as some.

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Postby Sabin » Wed Dec 15, 2010 2:53 am

I'm having a horrible couple of weeks. Just very diligent, in my head, deadlines, today especially...

The Fighter made me feel good.

Now it's generic stuff. The margins of the first half are packed with a live-wire energy that kept me very entertaining. It settles into formula after not too long, but in the final fight I found myself genuinely involved even as David O. Russell makes some stylistic choices I didn't care for. But the ones that I did care for are outstanding. It's the littlest thing but he superimposes the title of the fight bouts over scenes of domesticity preceding the fights themselves. I really liked that. David O. Russell does a fantastic job of integrating his cast into the location so that everyone feels roughly on the same wavelength. Even stars like Amy Adams and Mark Wahlberg have a beaten down [movie star] authenticity to them amidst the populace. The film does skip over a bit of their courtship which I found somewhat jarring, as if the heart of the film was somewhat cut out. I suppose it's not necessary but it would constitute the kind of endearing behavioral mini-narrative that makes you fall in love with both of them, and it's slightly missing.

Wahlberg plays his character with an understated dignity. The fact that he is perennially surrounded by overbearing familiar forces is evident in his performance, but the film is somewhat confused in its eventual aim. If Mickey needs to fight for himself, how does the resolution of surrounding himself with as many overbearing forces as possible make sense? Wahlberg is not the most magnetic presence in the world and the film doesn't really offer much insight into him. He never entirely comes into focus, which I think is the film's treatise. It's a film about family. And ultimately it's a little bit of a mess. Albeit, it's the kind of mess I needed tonight.

Bale has the Oscar. And judging from his competition, it won't be undeserved.
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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Dec 10, 2010 4:22 pm

I'm not going to do the links, but if you search around the Internet, you'll find The Fighter is the rare movie to get rather more enthusiastic reviews from the opening-day critics than it did from the trades. Particular praise is being offered the supporting trio, with Bale getting career notices, and Adams getting pretty equal treatment vis a vis Leo.

But the film itself is faring better than I anticipated. No one says it's a masterpiece, but everyone seems fairly energized -- which the studio probably prefers. It reminds me of what William Goldman wrote long ago in The Season: If you tell people something is a genuine evening of literate theatre, you're dooming it to a quick death, but if you say I had a hell of a good time watching this, despite it's flaws, you're writing what they call a money notice. The Fighter is getting money notices.

Of course, we have to see if that translates to serious box office, but right at this moment I think The Fighter has probably advanced to a position where it'd even make a best picture group of five. It's a sure bet to make the ten, and Russell probably has to be thought a favorite for the directors' list, despite his badmouthed reputation. The young directors of the mid-to-late 90s appear to have really come of age this year.

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Postby Sonic Youth » Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:53 am

I have Screendaily access again, so I'd better use it while it lasts.

The Fighter
11 November, 2010 | By Brent Simon

Dir: David O. Russell. US. 2010. 116mins

More a lurching, blue-collar social drama than a conventional boxing biopic, The Fighter connects fitfully as a story of brotherly bonds and underdog triumph. Engaging performances and a certain overall nervy energy help overcome slapdash plotting in what represents the realisation of a longtime passion project for actor-producer Mark Wahlberg.

Critical support will be key in aiding respectable Stateside adult audience turnout when Paramount opens The Fighter on December 10. But the movie’s lack of focus on boxing action and the ultra-specificity of its regional setting should put a damper on foreign returns.

Based on a true story from the 1990s, the film centers on Micky Ward (Wahlberg), a once-promising welterweight fighter in small-town Massachusetts who is working his way back into contention after a couple tough losses. Keeping him from realizing his full potential is a family — including his manager mother Alice (Melissa Leo) and a gaggle of a half dozen teased-hair, uneducated sisters — that seems to both gravy-train and live vicariously through his livelihood.

The worst offender is Micky’s older half-brother Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer who frittered away his own chance at ring stardom on drugs, and is now an unreliable trainer, still strung out on crack. When Micky strikes up a relationship with bartender Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) and entertains the advances of a new manager, most of his family rebels. Dickie lands in prison, but gets out just in advance of the biggest fight of Micky’s life, again injecting chaos into proceedings.

The script is an awkward mash-up of the conventional and colorful, enlivened by its actors. From its training gym work to sequences involving impressing a woman by beating up a mouthy bar patron, and cementing a burgeoning romantic relationship through having said woman tend to wounds, The Fighter is full of scenes seen before. Even as Micky trades in an upset win for a title fight, the stakes in the ring feel small, and known.

Outside the ring, the movie sets up some interesting and substantive inter-family conflict, and then ultimately walks away from most of it, content to play around the edges, concern itself with the boxing arc and a few grace notes surrounding Micky and Dickie’s eventual reconciliation.

Part of the film’s loose hold relates to the fact that Micky is in many ways a get-along bystander in his own life. He wants to please, and have everyone be happy. That can be a frustrating quality in a protagonist, but plumbed for interesting paradoxical effect if it’s explored as it relates to a character in many other ways so aggressive. The Fighter largely shrugs off this opportunity, though.

Eschewing much of his signature directorial quirkiness, David O. Russell, working for the third time with Wahlberg, nonetheless locates a rich and unexpected humor in the material, particularly in a dopey criminal scheme gone wrong by Dickie, and Charlene’s choppy interactions with Micky’s family. With cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Russell also ditches any attempt at pulverizing grittiness, instead presenting the boxing matches largely in degraded videotape (aping their televised presentations) and saving the most chaotic handheld camerawork for the movie’s domestic friction.

A compact vessel for the audience’s sympathies, Wahlberg is a good match for the material physically, and evinces a basic levelheaded decency. Adams shows heretofore hidden facility with spitfire forcefulness. Most striking, though, is Bale, who should receive strong awards consideration in supporting actor categories. In a committed performance that physically finds him in only slightly more nourished condition than the emaciated turn he gave in The Machinist, he locates and balances the doomed jitteriness of an addict’s self-destruction with the tender compassion of fraternal love.
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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 10, 2010 9:43 pm


The best boxing movies aren't about the sport, but what happens outside the ropes.
By Peter Debruge

The best boxing movies aren't about the sport, but what happens outside the ropes. If "The Fighter" doesn't quite measure up to the greats, it's because director David O. Russell seems confused about what to do between bouts. Strangely, that unfocused quality -- versus any breakthrough narrative angle -- gives the film its punch, injecting Russell's affectionately patronizing portrait of blue-collar pugs "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) with chaotic energy. More scenery-chewing contest than traditional boxing biopic, this late-year Paramount release is being handled as prestige rather than mainstream fare, but could connect despite itself, particularly among those familiar with Ward.

As a fighter, Ward was known for taking a sustained beating for several rounds, only to come back and knock out his opponents with a well-placed left hook. That would appear to be the model for the screenplay, penned by Scott Silver ("8 Mile"), Paul Tamasy (the "Air Bud" movies) and Eric Johnson (from a story by Tamasy, Johnson and Keith Dorrington), which tracks the punishing setbacks between Micky's return to boxing and his first title win.

Though Wahlberg is a good decade older than his character, the actor convincingly fills Micky's shoes from the outset, essaying a less cocksure variation on the dreamer he played in "Boogie Nights," this time closer to home as a lower-class Massachusetts kid who makes good on a rocky upbringing. (Ward grew up in Lowell, Mass., which served as the film's primary location, about an hour from Wahlberg's childhood haunts.) As age gaps go, Bale has the trickier part, playing Micky's significantly older brother, despite being three years younger than Wahlberg -- a feat that involved receding his hairline, thinning a bald spot in back and wearing a most unflattering set of crack-addict teeth.

Dicky, who served as Micky's idol and trainer, steals the floor from the beginning, talking over his more taciturn half-brother in a television interview and seeing Micky's early scraps as an extension of his own failed boxing career, the high point of which was an HBO-broadcast bout with Sugar Ray Leonard. HBO is still interested in Dicky as the film opens, only now they're tracking him for a Lowell-based installment of "America Undercover," featuring once-promising lives destroyed by drugs.

It's not insignificant to the look and feel of "The Fighter" that HBO was the one to document this chapter in the siblings' lives, since the network also rewrote the rules by which prize fights and family sagas are told. With the exception of one slo-mo montage, the matches are depicted like pay-per-view events, cutting between long shots and ringside reactions (as they would on TV, complete with instant-replay capabilities and video-style pixelation) rather than privileged closeups.

The influence of "The Sopranos" and such recent character-driven dramas as "Mad Men" (where, by no mere coincidence, Par featured its first extended preview for "The Fighter") can also be felt in Russell's narrative style, which isn't as clearly plot-driven as the many boxing movies that have come before. Instead, he seems more invested in scenes that reveal his characters' often-unarticulated insecurities and dreams, as in the television premiere of the HBO expose (based on 1995's "High on Crack Street"), which allows the director to cycle among his ensemble to observe how all the key players react to public humiliation.

One could argue whether Micky or Dicky is the film's main character, but there's no denying that Dicky undergoes the more compelling arc. While Micky faces an oppressive family life and uphill romance with assertive, out-of-his-league bartender Charlene (Amy Adams), Dicky must overcome addiction, narcissism and defeat before he can let his little brother emerge the family champion. And what a family, embodied by overbearing mother Alice (Melissa Leo) and a swarm of harpy sisters.

If "The Fighter" feels like kind of a mess, lurching from one scene to the next as if the film itself has taken a few hits to the head, that's not entirely a bad thing. Since the story ends well before Micky's career-defining showdown with Arturo Gatti, it's just as well that lunatic setpieces allow talents such as Leo -- whose wickedly over-the-top turn disguises Alice's cartoonish two-dimensionality -- to upstage anything Micky accomplishes in the ring.

Still, backed by a stellar group of unshowy character actors, the glamour-averse marquee perfs range from Brando-esque mumbling to full-throttle histrionics, with d.p. Hoyte Van Hoytema's intense handheld shooting style accommodating that range within a single cohesive world, rounded out by tacky, period-specific '90s production and costume design. As fiery dysfunction goes, "Spanking the Monkey" and "Flirting With Disaster" were clearly just a warm-up for Russell. What's missing are stakes and soul, with the director's attention split between working-class elegy and white-trash caricature, but missing the big picture.

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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Nov 10, 2010 11:16 am

Bloggers (esp. Tapley) are very enthusiasitic. This first "legit" review is more tepid.

Early buzz had been Bale and Leo. But this review -- and several others -- heavily tout Adams.

The Fighter -- Film Review
8:00 AM 11/10/2010 by Kirk Honeycutt

The Bottom Line
True story of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward is played for domestic drama about a dysfunctional family that never quite earns your sympathy.

Brotherly love takes a standing eight-count in The Fighter, then rallies for a knockout as two troubled brothers find a way to work together to make boxing history.

This true story about light welterweight boxer and perennial underdog “Irish” Micky Ward makes for less of a sports movie than a domestic drama about blue-collar brothers struggling to stay a family while the forces of drug addiction and parental ambition tear them apart.

While the film may have its Rocky-like moments, it reminds you more of the plays and films of the 1950s, which focused on tough realities faced by working-class people.

The film has been a pet project for its producer-star Mark Wahlberg. You can certainly see what stirred his passion in the against-all-odds physical and emotional journey of Micky Ward. It’s an epic tale told with low-key, measured tones. But a host of writers and Wahlberg’s Three Kings director David O. Russell never quite make the case that his story merits a major studio movie.

There is something a little too cartoonish about Micky’s completely impossible family and also something a little too short-sighted in a protagonist who can’t see the obvious — that his family, and not other fighters, is what stands in his way as a boxer. Paramount will be pushing The Fighter in a number of awards categories when it opens December 10.

If Wahlberg hits the PA trail and critics respond, the film stands a chance for moderate box office and a nom or two. But the feeling persists that this is one that got away, that the film Wahlberg envisioned is not the film that ultimately got made. A central conflict never comes into clear focus. There’s a lot going on in the early scenes, all set in the characters’ hometown of Lowell, Masachusetts.

Wahlberg’s Micky, who is working on a road paving crew, is aiming to return to boxing after a hiatus brought about by a string of defeats. His older half-brother, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), himself a former boxer who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard and therefore Micky’s childhood hero, is his trainer. Only Dickie spends most of his time in a crack house. A documentary film crew follows Dickie around making a film about his “comeback” as the brothers’ fiercely possessive mother, Alice (Melissa Leo in a startlingly strident performance), arranges fights that don’t improve Micky’s career ambitions one bit.

Meanwhile, Micky spots an attractive bartender, college dropout Charlene (Amy Adams), and a relationship sputters to life. It soon is clear enough that Charlene is the only character in the film who is not delusional. Dickie is no trainer but a crack-head, and the documentary crew is actually making an HBO movie about addiction, not sports comebacks. Alice has no business managing her son’s career but the son needs his new girlfriend to set him straight about his family. Dicke helps Charlene’s cause when he gets busted and sent to prison. The mom has had nine kids and all the rest are lay-about sisters, who smoke, watch TV and make snide remarks about Charlene. Whatever the actual reality of the Ward/Eklund family, the portrayal here is so exaggerated that it seems at times more like a spoof of a Sundance dysfunctional-family film.

What’s not clear is why Micky never spots any of this dysfunction. Perhaps he does yet worries about losing his hero and his mom at the same time. However, Charlene gives him the backbone to challenge both of them so for a while his career takes off. Yet when Dickie returns from prison and he and mom want to get back on Micky’s boxing team, he dithers once more. Wahlberg’s Micky is always levelheaded. He understands his attributes and drawbacks as a fighter. He wins fights through a strategy: He is willing to absorb brutal punishment in the ring until he can seize the opportunity to land a devastating body blow.

Similarly, in life, Micky absorbs his family’s best shots until he can find a way to bring them back into his inner circle. He’s a family guy, for sure. The script by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (from a story by Tamasy, Johnson and Keith Dorrington) sees Micky as unnervingly patient. His greatest fear is of failure. He wants to live up to an image Dickie put in his mind when he was a kid, an impression so strong that he doesn’t realize that it disintegrated long ago.Meanwhile Dickie would probably be a clown even if he weren’t stoned. He has an ex-fighter’s loose limbs and rubbery body. He likes to make faces and joke around with people. Whether intended or not, his speech pattern is that of a man whose brain has been rattled once too often inside his head.

The real enigma here though is Alice. What makes her tick? Leo plays her with a pinched, determined face and overly styled hair, a woman missing the gene for maternal instincts. Her “love” for her two boys depends on how much they believe mother knows best. Somewhere along the line, the movie pretty much gives up trying to understand her so she is relegated to ringside seats rooting for Micky.

The most luminous personality in the film belongs to Adams’ Charlene. She too is a woman who takes charge but she does it through strength of character and love. Her bad-girl days are behind her so she understands a thing or two about comebacks: They only work if you see no other option.

The boxing sequences get bunched toward the end. Russell deliberately shoots them in brightly lit video that makes it look like you’re watching television. He has broadcasters and ringsiders comment on the fights, but seldom takes you close enough to hear what Dickie might be saying to Micky. You’re outside the ring, not inside. So like much of this film, the viewer is turned into an observer. You never feel close enough to the action, either in the ring or in the kitchens, living rooms and tough streets where the story takes place. The characters engage you up to a point but never really pull you in.

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