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Low Blow the Underclass to Kingdom Come

MOVIE REVIEW
The Fighter (2010)

The-fighter-mark-wahlberg-christian-bale-melissa-leo
JoJo Whilden/Paramount Pictures

“The Fighter” isn’t this year’s “The Wrestler.” Think of it rather as the American riff on the “Animal Kingdom” milieu. Hardly anyone could possibly find this true story of Lowell, Mass., boxer Micky Ward (here played by Mark Wahlberg) inspirational because it so seeps with the same disdain for the underclass found in that Australian coming-of-age crime saga.

Just as his Down Under counterpart James Frecheville did, Mr. Wahlberg gives an earnest turn. Despite an Oscar-baiting “60 Minutes” segment, it’s still more or less the same performance seen from him earlier this year in “The Other Guys.” What makes “The Fighter” and “Animal Kingdom” so very special, though, is their shared cartoonish characterization of white trash, complete with evilly manipulative matriarch (Melissa Leo in this film) and crazed druggie brother (Christian Bale here with a buffoonish Al Bundy grin).

Director David O. Russell has exhibited contempt for his characters before with “I Heart Huckabees,” “Three Kings,” “Flirting with Disaster” and “Spanking the Monkey.” But while this was amusing in a comedic or satiric context, it backfires in a dramatic narrative in which the protagonist should warrant our sympathies.

Granted, Mr. Russell isn’t working with his own script this time. The pedestrian, paint-by-numbers screenplay is seemingly by the same plebeian types that populate the film. When Micky takes his date Charlene (Amy Adams) to see “Belle époque,” the screenwriting brain trust (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson share the credit) decides it’s insufficient to simply show Micky’s inability to pronounce the Spanish title of the film or to stay awake during it. It goes a step further by having an obnoxious passerby point out the rave review “Belle époque” received from the New York Times and having Micky finally spell out the whole purpose of the scene by declaring that he has just lost a fight and is too embarrassed to show his face where he may run into people he knows. “The Fighter” eventually goes on to tell rather than show Micky’s dilemma concerning the pull between his personal aspirations and those of his family, but it would seem a lot less condescending to the audience if it didn’t resort to such unflattering stereotypes.

THE FIGHTER

Opens on Dec. 10 in the United States and on Feb. 4, 2011 in Britain.

Directed by David O. Russell; written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on a story by Keith Dorrington, Mr. Tamasy and Mr. Johnson; director of photography, Hoyte Van Hoytema; edited by Pamela Martin; music by Michael Brook; production design by Judy Becker; costumes by Mark Bridges; produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Mark Wahlberg, Dorothy Aufiero and Mr. Tamasy; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Mark Wahlberg (Micky Ward), Christian Bale (Dicky Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene Fleming), Melissa Leo (Alice Ward) and Jack McGee (George Ward).

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