The Fighter,

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

know where this true-life story is go­ing. A fight movie isn’t go­ing to all this trou­ble for some palooka who never grabs the brass ring.

The be­gin­ning of Micky’s way out of the los­ing spi­ral he’s caught in comes when he takes up with Char­lene (Amy Adams), a pretty bar­tender who’s maybe a step up in class from the peo­ple he usu­ally hangs around with. The first clue is her hair. In a bar scene in which most of the women have big hair, Char­lene’s tum­bles in soft red locks down her back. Char­lene has been to col­lege on a high-jump­ing schol­ar­ship, so she knows some­thing about com­pe­ti­tion, and she knows a few other things too.

The biggest hair be­longs to Micky’s bat­tal­ion of sis­ters, seven of the frowzi­est, scari­est babes you will ever run into, and to his mother, who runs the fam­ily like a don, and not the Cam­bridge kind. Melissa Leo, an ac­tress who is shed­ding a ca­reer of rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity as surely and as spec­tac­u­larly as Micky Ward ever did, has a field day with the char­ac­ter of Alice, a flinty, tough broad who calls the shots and rules the roost. She’s not crim­i­nal and not even bad-hearted, but she re­minds you of those im­pla­ca­ble crime-boss ma­mas in mob movies.

Ma­mas are al­ways tough to shed, but Micky’s big­ger prob­lem is Dicky. He grew up idol­iz­ing Dicky, who taught him how to fight. The two could not be more dif­fer­ent in and out of the ring. Dicky is gre­gar­i­ous, pranc­ing, elu­sive — “I’m squig­gly,” he chor­tles, de­scrib­ing the style that took him the dis­tance with Leonard. “I’m not even there!” He is be­ing fol­lowed around Low­ell by an HBO crew that is mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary on his come­back, he tells ev­ery­one, but in fact they are shoot­ing an episode of Amer­ica Un­der­cover about his slide into drugs.

Mark Wahlberg grew up idol­iz­ing Micky Ward, whose Low­ell roots were not far from the Bos­ton mean streets of Wahlberg’s trou­bled youth. He’s been want­ing to make this movie for some time, and he may have waited too long — at nearly 40, he’s a lit­tle past his boxing prime. But then, so was Micky when he made his move, and while Wahlberg adds a decade to the equa­tion, he looks good, and his fight­ing feels au­then­tic. It is his quiet pres­ence at the cen­ter of the movie that gives it its bal­last. The flashier role is Bale’s, and Bale plays it to the hilt. He shifts and fid­gets and clowns, but he also moves like the boxer Dicky used to be, and Bale shows us the lay­ers of his de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. He’s ir­re­sistible to watch, but with­out Wahlberg’s solid un­der­play­ing, Bale’s per­for­mance might whirl the movie off the screen. Di­rec­tor David O. Rus­sell finds just the right bal­ance.

There is some lovely work on the un­der­card of this movie. Those seven sis­ters are like a Greek cho­rus of fu­ries, a mas­ter­piece of the cast­ing di­rec­tor’s art. Jack McGee is per­fect cast­ing and per­fect play­ing as Micky’s fa­ther. And Mickey O’Keefe is even more per­fectly cast as the cop from the Low­ell po­lice force who helps train the young fighter — O’Keefe is the man who re­ally did men­tor Micky Ward, play­ing him­self.

Movies al­ways turn out bet­ter than real life, be­cause they can. This one ends be­fore the three fights with Ar­turo Gatti that are the sig­na­ture fights of “Ir­ish” Micky Ward’s ca­reer, three of the great fights in boxing his­tory, rel­e­gat­ing them to men­tion in the end ti­tles. And it ends with Dicky hit­ting a grace note, which in real life he has not main­tained.

A clip of the real half-broth­ers at the end re­veals how beau­ti­fully Bale and Wahlberg cap­tured their char­ac­ters. I wish we could have seen the real sis­ters and mother, too.

Cin­derella, dressed in yella: Mark Wahlberg and MIckey O’Keefe

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