Mark Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, an aspiring welterweight being "managed" by his mother Alice Ward (the very, very good Melissa Leo) and being 'trained" by his half-brother Dicky Ecklund (the absolutely brilliant, funny and tragic Christian Bale; note to the Oscars: you gave Heath Ledger the trophy for the Joker, Bale deserves the same trophy this year for this non-Batman role). Dicky is a crack addict whose only "claim to fame" is having fought Sugar Ray Leonard and "knocking him down" thus becoming the pride of their town, Lowell, Massachusetts.
While the film is about boxing, the greater subtext is clearly the love and loyalty that this totally dysfunctional family, revolving around a mother and her two sons, has for each other. While it is also a film about "rising from the depths", it is also a film about denial and how those denials become the substitute for or the expression of love.
Dicky is in denial about his crack addiction and even the whole Sugar Ray Leonard affair (throughout the film, a running thread is whether Dicky really knocked him down or Leonard slipped).
Alice is in denial about Dicky's crack addiction and the effects it is having on Micky's career.
Micky is in denial about the way that Alice is mismanaging his career and how Dicky is not training him at all. He is in denial that heneeds his brother at his side but also in denial that, until Dicky kicks crack, his career is dead.
And in this extremely dysfunctional family (an interesting and very funny sidelight is the one involvi
ng the sisters of Micky and Dicky and how they are related to Alice, Micky, Dicky and George Ward, Micky's father), that is what passes for love. And it is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, at the same time.
Wahlberg and Bale are absolutely brilliant as Micky and Dicky. Wahlberg has the body to pass for a welterweight and also the acting chops while Bale virtually inhabits the role of crack addict (from the
gaunt, haunted features to the nervous tics and twitches) and, in a really delightful change, is not surly, does not grunt, growl or glower but instead is funny, loving, angry and bitter as Dicky, who realizes that the only fight he has left is vicariously, through Micky.
David O. Russell (who directed Wahlberg in the riot "Three Kings") totally nails this one. This is one of those boxing films that does not sacrifice the boxing scenes (very well-made; it is comparable to "The Cinderella Man" by Ron Howard--known to be a stickler for detail in his films--almost five years ago) and integrates them into a funny and moving human drama. One minor complaint is that the last fight scene fails to generate the excitement of a championship fight, perhaps because of the lack of a rousing score (similar to Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now" from *errrm* Rocky) but this is a very minor complaint.
In the end, "The Fighter" is about fighting and not only on top of the boxing ring.
Alice and George fight to keep their family together; Micky fights for the title but also, more importantly, for his mother's approval and love; Dicky fights to keep what little dignity is left of him but also, more importantly, to keep the love, respect and adoration of Micky.
In the end, you feel for this family--for Alice, George, Dicky, and Micky--fighters all because of the way they fight for what is truly important: loyalty, honor, respect and love.
NB. The title refers to what Micky does after every win in the film. Mark Wahlberg, a certified and outspoken fan of Manny Pacquiao, does a homage to Pacquiao in this film--retreating to his corner after a win and kneeling in prayer. Finally, Pacquiao, a forgettable actor, has conquered Hollywood and he didn't need to act in a single scene.