Knock­ing the new kid’s block off

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The Fighter, boxing bio, rated R, Re­gal DeVargas and Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 3.5 chiles

I“Ding ’em to the head, pound ’em to the body.”

That’s the boxing mantra Dicky Ek­lund (Chris­tian Bale) drills into his younger half-brother, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), and it fits the style of this hay­maker of a movie, which tells its fact-based story with sly pokes and bru­tal body blows.

Dicky is a for­mer wel­ter­weight fighter who once took the great Sugar Ray Leonard to the can­vas in an HBO tele­vised bout. Leonard got back up and beat the tar out of him, and ques­tions linger as to whether it was a knock­down or a slip, but Ek­lund went the dis­tance with the champ, and that moment was enough to el­e­vate him to hero sta­tus in his work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood of Low­ell, Mas­sachusetts, and earn him the nick­name “The Pride of Low­ell.”

Dicky is washed up now, a crack ad­dict and a bum, and it’s Micky who’s on the rise as a fighter. But with his ca­reer tightly wound up in his fam­ily — Dicky is his trainer, his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) is his man­ager — he has fast be­come what’s known in the fight game as a “step­ping stone,” a re­spectable matchup and a re­li­able win for a fighter who is go­ing some­where.

Like most good fight movies, this is some­thing that’s re­ally about some­thing else. Here it’s all about fam­ily, about the power struc­ture in this close-knit New Eng­land clan in which Micky is still very much the ju­nior mem­ber of the firm. Micky’s fam­ily loves him, but they don’t al­ways make good de­ci­sions for him. The recipe is a fa­mil­iar one: un­less he can ex­tri­cate him­self and stand on his own, he’s never go­ing to amount to any­thing. If you’re fa­mil­iar with boxing — or with boxing movies — you

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