The Fighter 11/03/31 2:41
Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey, a scrappy but very self-contained young fighter from Lowell, Masachusetts, who is overshadowed by his older half-brother, Dicky Ecklund, played by Christian Bale. Dicky was a notable fighter years ago, and is still clinging to the memory of having knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a bout, and supposedly planning a comeback. In fact, he's a crackhead, with all the crazy behavior and chronic unreliability that that entails. When the movie opens, HBO is following him around for a movie—not as it turns out, about boxing, but about crack addiction.
In addition to having Dicky as his trainer, Mickey is managed by his mother Alice, a fierce, wild-eyed chain smoking ball of energy played by Melissa Leo. There are also seven sisters, who appear to be sponging off Alice and the brothers' boxing career, and act as a kind of supporting army for Alice.
It is this portrait of tough, working class Irish family dysfunction that makes the movie interesting to watch. You can tell that Mickey has had to lay low just to stay sane in the midst of such a clan. Wahlberg plays him as a decent, but bewildered and somewhat passive sufferer. Bale's Oscar-winning role, however, is one of those tour de force performances from which one can only stand back and marvel. With his slurring speech and jittery mannerisms, he embodies the character's arrogance, foolishness, entitlement, sadness, and self-destructiveness. You can't take your eyes off him. Melissa Leo is just out-and-out scary as the mother. Amy Adams is also on hand to play a tough woman for a change, Mickey's girlfriend Charlene, who tries to wake him up to how his family is ruining his chances.
As a boxing story, there's nothing much different here than what you see in almost every boxing story, and although Russell tries to amp things up with loud music and hectic montage, there's not much suspense. To be fair, the boxing movie is one of the most rigid genres in film, and it takes a Scorsese in Raging Bull to break through those boundaries. But as a portrait of family insanity, and an acting clinic by Christian Bale and the others, the picture merits a look. I've known people like this, and it's that authenticity that raises this film a cut above the average.