The Fighter, like its subject, is an unexpected winner. Directed by David O. Russell, it's based on the true story of junior welterweight Micky Ward, played with nice understatement by Mark Wahlberg, who is one of the film's producers.
Ward — living in the decaying town of Lowell, Mass., in the 1990s — is a decent journeyman boxer when we meet him but works a day job. He's under the thumb of his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), who guilt-trips him, and the sway of his older brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), a former fighter himself but now something of a clown, with his crack use taking a toll. The love of a good woman, Charlene (Amy Adams as a sexy barmaid with a tough side), helps focus Micky's life.
The Fighter covers much of the same dramatic and socio psychological ground of other boxing movies, but Russell gives it a fresh feel, stepping back enough from the usual razzle-dazzle of the ring battles — which are filmed more like a live fight on HBO — and deftly exploring the complicated family relationships.
The performances are extraordinary. Bale loses himself in the role of irresponsible Dicky, who, like a character in Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days, keeps reliving his most famous triumph, when he supposedly knocked down champ Sugar Ray Leonard, although facts might say otherwise. Leo is a tiger as the matriarch who rules the family with fear and intimidation. Bale and Leo won supporting-actor Oscars for their roles.
Wahlberg's Micky is almost a bystander in his own drama — with two strong women pulling at him and a brother he loves and looks to but knows is crazy. It's an effective performance, though, as the reluctant fighter learns how to be more than a puncher. The Fighter doesn't floor you with a knockout blow, but it has a lot of great knockdown moments.
The Fighter retails for $29.99 or $39.99 Blu-ray combo.