Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
For a movie that deals with a couple of all-too-familiar genres — biopics and pugilist tales — “The Fighter” feels surprisingly fresh. Director David O. Russell, who’s known for less mainstream fare like “I Heart Huckabees” and “Three Kings,” brings a spry, often humorous touch to what could easily have been a humdrum narrative of a rising boxing star.
Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward, the welterweight boxing champ from Lowell, Mass., while a haggard Christian Bale throws himself into the role of Dicky Eklund, Mickey’s older half-brother and trainer. Dicky, a garrulous washed-up boxer who loves to boast about the time he knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard, is good at inadvertently stealing Mickey’s thunder. Loved by his townies and nicknamed the “Pride of Lowell,” he thinks he knows what’s best for his little brother, both in life and in the ring.
Unfortunately, Dicky’s flushing his credibility down the drain with a cocaine habit. Their mother, played by Melissa Leo, is no help. Acting as Micky’s manager, she turns a blind eye to her favored son’s addiction and, despite her good intentions, is a crummy manager. Micky, sweet kid that he is, sticks with his mother and brother but is also hobbled by them — a fact that his new girlfriend (Amy Adams) is quick to point out.
The credit in “The Fighter” really goes to the sheer talent of the ensemble cast. Bale positively transforms for this role — emaciated but full of heart, he is about as far away from Batman as one could get. Leo is a riot as are the actresses who play her posse of cackling, obsequious daughters — all of them with matching feathered ’80s hair. Even Wahlberg, who has a tendency to come across as overly earnest in movies, is nicely understated here.
“The Fighter” can’t avoid a rote quality that comes with the territory of sports flicks. Still, Russell works superbly within the confines of a predictable story. He doesn’t dally on sentiment, and the boxing is paced the way you wish more boxing movies would pace bouts: packed with blood and grit but quick to climax.