Wahlberg’s Boxer Battles Junkie Brother; Affleck Fired: Movies

Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Mickey O'Keefe in "The Fighter." Photographer: JoJo Whilden/EPK via Bloomberg

Conflict isn’t confined to the ring in “The Fighter,” a gritty film that chronicles Micky Ward’s improbable rise from journeyman boxer to champion.

Starring Mark Wahlberg as Ward and Christian Bale as his half-brother, Dickie Eklund, the movie focuses more on family feuds than boxing. Ward’s career, which tanks when he’s trained by his crack-addict brother and managed by his hard-bitten mother Alice (Melissa Leo), only revives after he limits their control.

Though co-producer Wahlberg spent years trying to get the film made, it was shot in only 33 days in Lowell, Massachusetts, the blue-collar town where Ward grew up with his eight siblings. The quick shooting schedule gives the picture a ragged, real- time feel.

Wahlberg’s sturdy performance reflects Ward’s dogged fighting style and his own hard-scrabble background in Boston, where he had numerous run-ins with the law before straightening out his life and becoming a successful rapper, model, actor and producer.

But the two real standouts are Leo and Bale, who took over as Dickie after Matt Damon and Brad Pitt ditched the role.

Bale dominates the screen as an ex-boxer who went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard before his drug habit landed him in prison. Dickie’s joking, carefree manner masks his bitter disappointment at not fulfilling his potential and becoming a roadblock in his brother’s career.

Tough Mom

Leo doesn’t sugarcoat Ward’s mother, who views Micky as the family’s meal ticket. Alice resents the influence of his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams, in a radical departure from her sweet-girl persona), a no-nonsense barmaid who urges him to distance himself from his family and hire new management.

Director David O. Russell does a workmanlike job with a script (by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson) that includes some corny scenes such as the brothers walking down the streets of Lowell like Pied Pipers, slapping hands with admiring citizens.

The boxing action is crunchingly realistic and the working-class Massachusetts accents are plausible. While it lacks the brutal power of “Raging Bull” or the hokey appeal of the “Rocky” movies, “The Fighter” is a solid addition to Hollywood’s boxing tradition.

“The Fighter,” from Paramount Pictures, opens tomorrow in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Rating: ***

‘The Company Men’

Executives with big paychecks and huge houses lose their jobs in “The Company Men,” a depressing drama about the human cost of corporate bloodletting during the Great Recession.

Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper play co- workers at GTX, a Boston shipping company whose owner cuts his workforce to boost a sagging stock price and make the business more attractive to potential buyers.

Before the ax drops, sales manager Bobby (Affleck), senior executive Phil (Cooper) and vice president Gene (Jones) are living in suburban mansions and enjoying the perks (country clubs, private jets, Porsches) of corporate success.

After they’re fired, Bobby and Phil struggle to find work while Gene, who’s financially secure, vents his anger at owner and best friend James (Craig T. Nelson) for dismantling the company they built together.

Construction Job

The situation also takes its toll on their families. Bobby and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) sell their house and move in with his parents, and he ends up working for his hated brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) on a construction crew. Phil grows despondent and takes out his frustration by throwing rocks at GTX headquarters. Gene separates from his wife to live with the sexy company official (Maria Bello) who handed him his pink slip.

Writer/director John Wells, former executive producer of TV’s “ER” and “The West Wing,” captures the desperation and anger of workers tossed aside after years of loyal service. He’s aided by a superb cast, especially Jones as a boss with a conscience and Costner as an honest working man who lends a hand to his snobbish brother-in-law despite their fractious relationship.

Still, I’m not sure if your average moviegoer is going to shed any tears for these highly paid suits. It might have helped if Wells had included a secretary or truck driver in his layoff list.

“The Company Men,” from the Weinstein Co., opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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