Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg and the city of Lowell, Mass., star in The Fighter, an energetic boxing movie filled with those Oscar-ready performances that always show up this time of year.
Dicky Eklund (Bale) was once a boxer who tasted the limelight, boxing Sugar Ray Leonard and knocking him down (or maybe he slipped, depending on who in Lowell you ask). Called the Pride of Lowell, Dicky is now a crack addict who still harbors delusions of grandeur for himself and big plans for his younger brother Micky (Wahlberg). While Dicky trains Micky to fight, Alice (Melissa Leo), their mother and the mother of seven tough girls, serves as Micky’s manager. This arrangement might not be so great for Micky, as he seems to end up in fights that only harm him (both physically and his reputation). Even though his father (Jack McGee) and Charlene (Amy Adams), the girl Micky’s sweet on, as well as others in his extended acquaintance tell Micky that he’s got to get a more professional team, his sense of family loyalty keeps him with Dicky and Alice.
Even when he’s pulling Dicky out of a crack house to accompany him to a fight, Micky stays loyal. Will staying true to his family kill his one remaining shot at making something of his boxing career?
Since this is a movie based on a true story, you can probably guess the trajectory of things. What makes The Fighter a journey worth taking is the performances — and not necessarily the performance of “main character” Mark Wahlberg. While Wahlberg is fine here, he kind of fades into the background whenever he shares the screen with any of the major supporting staff. Adams, so good at playing sweet girls, is solid as a bartender who has messed up chances of her own but wants more than the street-fighting life that seems destined for all members of Micky’s family. She has an intensity that makes her more than just the requisite girlfriend character. Leo — always a standout — is once again great here as a domineering mother who is absolutely brutal to anyone she perceives as a threat to her family but completely blind to Dicky’s problems. She allows herself to be a harsh, unappealing woman in a way that is rare among actresses.
The true white-hot star at the center of this universe, though, is Bale’s Dicky. He has transformed himself here into a man unlike any of Bale’s previous roles — you do not see Bruce Wayne or Patrick Bateman when you look at Dicky. He captures this kind of man (and based on the clips we see of the real Dicky Ecklund at the end of the movie, this actual man) brilliantly. He can be both charming and lost, driven and profoundly sad and beaten by life.
The story follows a familiar underdog sports movie path but these performances elevate it to something bigger.
Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality. Directed by David O. Russell and written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington, The Fighter is an hour and 55 minutes long and is distributed by Paramount Pictures.