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The Fighter

A boxer's biggest fight is with his messy family

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Boxing stories generally end in a burst of triumph, or with a long slide to ignominy. David O. Russell's dramedy based on the real-life tale of "Irish" Micky Ward, manages to intertwine these two threads. Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a thirtysomething, no-nonsense welterweight with just a few chances left. But his hopes are held -- and mismanaged -- by his braying manager-mom Alice (Melissa Leo) and his trainer, older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former fighter who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. Around working-class Lowell, the manically effervescent Dicky lives on the fumes of his past glory -- and those of the crack pipe. Thus, Ward's real struggle isn't in the ring, but in fighting his way free from the self-defeating rut that his perennially dysfunctional family keeps him in. Whether the real Ward was or not, Wahlberg plays him as low-key, even resigned, so Bale and Leo, in their loud, messy roles, dominate the film. Boxing stories are a dime a dozen, and anybody can look up how Ward actually fared during the 1980s and '90s. Russell, instead, takes most of the fight out of the ring, and into the house, forefronting a relatable story about family struggles set against a backdrop of boxing. It's a punch that lands.

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