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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Fighter

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Mark Wahlberg stars in "The Fighter."
Take the intensity of "Raging Bull," add a dose of "Rocky" inspiration, and mix in the tawdry family squabbles featured on TV's "The Jerry Springer Show" and you have "The Fighter" (Paramount), a fact-based drama that follows two half-brothers from Lowell, Mass., who long for fame—and redemption—via the boxing ring.

The siblings are Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). Micky idolizes his older brother, the "Pride of Lowell," who once had his big shot as a welterweight boxer, going 10 rounds with the great Sugar Ray Leonard.

But the years have not been kind to Dicky, who has been on a self-destructive binge of drugs and loose women, all the while promising to mold Micky into the next world champion.

Bale's performance is a revelation, and effectively steals the movie. A whirling dervish of twitches, one-liners, and extreme pathos, Dicky refuses to accept that his time has passed. He is convinced that the HBO film crew following him around is documenting his great comeback, when in reality they are producing a program on the horrors of crack addiction.

To Micky, family is everything. He sacrifices his own dreams for the sake of Dicky's approval and, especially, for their monster of a mother, Alice (Melissa Leo). She's a chain-smoking harridan who acts as their manager, hammering her sons to bring home the bacon. Surrounding Alice are her seven other children, all daughters with big blond hair, short shorts, and potty mouths.

This Greek chorus with far too much makeup provides "The Fighter" with comic relief of a sort, and their catfights would not be out of place on lowest-common-denominator daytime television.

Micky earns a reputation as a "stepping stone," a fighter who consistently loses matches, allowing the superior pugilist to advance. Alice regards her younger son merely as a source of revenue to bankroll Dicky's comeback—even at the risk of Micky's life.

Enter the barmaid with a heart of gold, Charlene (Amy Adams). "You think your family's looking out for you?" she asks Micky, giving him the confidence to chart his own destiny. She stands up to Alice and the sisters, using her fists when necessary.

With her bare midriff and profane tongue, Adams, who rose to stardom playing a Disney princess in "Enchanted," has strayed very far from the realm of the Magic Kingdom.

When Dicky beats up a cop and goes to prison, Micky is at a crossroads: Give up fighting or go it alone. He chooses the latter, breaking with his family. "I'm trying to figure out what's best for me," he says. "I'm sick of being a disappointment."

As Micky's fortunes improve, Dicky monitors his sibling's progress from prison, and is inspired to turn his own life around, as is Alice.

The ultimate message is that success is empty without forgiveness and without the love and support of your family, however raucously dysfunctional they may be.

Director David O. Russell gives "The Fighter" a gritty, documentary feel while keeping the action moving. The discomfort produced by the boxing scenes is relatively low, compared to the family brawls on the front porch. But this is certainly not fare for the casual viewer.

The film contains excessive boxing and other violence, including familial strife, nongraphic premarital sexual activity, explicit drug use, a handful of profanities and frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.




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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
St. Monica
The tears of this fourth-century mother contributed to her son's conversion to Christ.

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Lord of the harvest, thank you for all those Men and Women Religious who have answered your call to service.

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The love of husband and wife is the wellspring of love for the entire family.

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Students and staff will appreciate receiving an e-card from you to begin the new school year.

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