THE FIGHTER:

More often than not, boxing movies use the sport as a backdrop for conflicts which occur outside the ring. This film fits this modus operandi since it’s a rather conventional work about the real life struggles of welterweight Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) to reconcile his career with loyalty to family and a girlfriend (Amy Adams) who wants him to break those ties. The title actually refers to both Ward and his delusional, crack-addicted half-brother (Christian Bale) who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard and has become the “train-wreck” subject of an HBO documentary. It’s beneficial to the film that Bale (THE DARK KNIGHT) delivers an outstanding, worthy-of-Oscar-consideration performance since this is, in essence, his story as well. Similar mention should go to Melissa Leo (FROZEN RIVER), one of the best under-the-radar character actresses working, as Ward’s overbearing manager/mother who presides over a brood that includes seven daughters with foul mouths and really bad hair. Those performances, and that of Adams (JUNEBUG) as well, elevates this from the sort of average sports movie about an overachieving underdog that Disney seems to crank out every other month. Unlike a recent SPORTS ILLUSTRATED article, I’m not in the camp that believes this is “the best boxing movie … EVER.” (That crown belongs to RAGING BULL.) An adequate resolution showing how the enmity between Ward’s girlfriend and his family is never demonstrated and the musical soundtrack doesn’t quite mesh with either the time setting or tone of the work. That latter element, though, is overcome by the excellent cinematography which captures the attitudes and rhythms of the working-class Boston area which has become the favorite locale for a number of good films, like this one.

CRITIC’S GRADE: B

OTHER EXCELLENT/GOOD MOVIES EITHER SET IN BOSTON OR THE SURROUNDING AREA: THE BOSTON STRANGLER (1968), THE DEPARTED (2006), FEAR STRIKES OUT (1957), THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973), GONE BABY GONE (2007), GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997), LOVE STORY (1970), MYSTIC RIVER (2003), THE TOWN (2010), THE VERDICT (1982)