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The Fighter is about a real-life dude whose life was a remake of the movie Rocky. David O. Russell directs, Mark Wahlberg stars and Amy Adams Adrians.

Wahlberg’s character is Boston pugilist Mickey Ward, the only boxer in history – other than Rocky – to discover that the secret to winning all boxing matches is to stand there and get the snot beaten out of you for the entire match before pummeling your tired opponent at the last second for an ultimate, dramatic victory.

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Mickey has it rough. He lives in the part of Boston that’s so bad, you can major in one of only two subjects: Boxing or Crack. Mickey’s older brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), chose Boxing and then changed his mind and went with Crack. Bear in mind that if you want to be both a boxer and crackhead in the same lifetime, you pretty much have to do them in that order. So, in a sense, Dicky is excellent at prioritizing.

Aside from brother Dicky, the rest of Mickey’s support structure is hardly more effective. There’s Mickey’s mom/manager (Melissa Leo), whose knowledge of the sport matches that of a mediocre Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out player, and a pack of seven sisters who are useful only when forming mobs to chase down Mickey’s girlfriends.

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I have to say, Mickey’s name weirds me out, as it’s the same as Rocky’s trainer. When I watched this film, whenever someone would say something like “Hey, Mickey’s coming!” I’d get all excited and expect to see Burgess Meredith rise from the grave to take one last crack at training Rocky for the title. But, alas, I was let down each time.

That’s about the only way in which this movie disappointed me. It’s a story that could have been schmaltzy in lesser hands. Somehow, it not only hits every note just right, but it also bludgeons every note with a right cross that bloodies the note’s eyes and dislodges its nose. Chief among the reasons the movie works is the performance of Amy Adams, whose version of Adrian — here a spunky, college-dropout bartender — isn’t the “oh, please, oh, please, Rocky, stop fighting” Adrian from Rocky III through Rocky V but rather the badass, “you’d better win or else you’re sleeping on the couch” Adrian from the earlier films. Adams is such an adept performer that she can display layers of nuance and heartbreaking sentiment in one scene, and then, in another, bend over in front of the camera as other characters snidely evaluate her ass.

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Bale, looking more Joker than Batman, is astounding as Dicky. So convincing was Bale as a crackhead that I didn’t even realize it was him until the end credits rolled. I expected the screen to read: “Dicky…. played by ACTUAL CRACKHEAD.” But, sure enough, it listed Christian Bale.

Moviegoers might determine that this film’s title not only refers to Mickey, but Bale and Adams’ characters, as well. And I concur, despite the fact that I continue to duck and cover (insisting to myself, “This isn’t as good as Rocky! This ISN’T as good as Rocky!”), only to speculate that if I let down my guard at the end of the fight, this stubborn palooka will floor me and convince me otherwise.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, based on a story by Johnson, Tamasy and Keith Dorrington. Directed by David O. Russell. 115 minutes. Rated R.
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