The trailer for this movie is too simple. It makes the film look like every other sports movie: a guy can’t make a living at this sport; his family life is troubled; in the end he wins the big match. However, the movie doesn’t succeed on its plot but on its characters. The Fighter is like Rocky meets Trailer Park Boys: this family is all kinds of messed up.
Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a boxer who has had some success but has recently been paving roads to get by. The glass ceiling he struggles against is not his own, but that of his older brother, Dicky (Christian Bale). Dicky is a former boxer best known for once knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard. That was fifteen years ago but he won’t let anyone forget it.
While there is love between them, it is obvious that Dicky trains Mickey in part so that he can be near boxing. He lies to himself that he is on the verge of a comeback, but spends most of his free time thoroughly enjoying a crack addiction.
The other component of Team Mickey is his manager – Mother. She is an overbearing cougar who nurtures Dicky and leaves Mickey to nature. She is constantly surrounded by her harem of adult daughters, a group of golem-faced hick women in need of a shave. The whole family revolves around Mickey’s career, but everyone – no matter how much they say they love him – is just in it for themselves.
The Mickey-Dicky-Mother triangle is entertaining enough, but thirty minutes in, our hero starts dating sexy bartender Charlene (Amy Adams). Charlene balances the asshole women in the movie by calling out Mickey’s mother on her false ‘family first’ ideals and eventually kicking the crap out her brood of Neanderthal daughters.
The Fighter is not defined as a comedy, but expect to laugh out loud at how much of a disaster this family is. For example, in one scene Mother enters and exits with her car by running over the same set of trash cans. No reason.
Wahlberg is capable but can be typically whiny. Amy Adams does well displaying a soft side for such an aggressive character. Melissa Leo brings realism to what could have been a cartoon of a mother. Bale, however, is brilliant. Whenever Bale leaves the scene, you will be disappointed. He plays one of those people who kills you with kindness; he’s fun and funny and his intentions are pure while making the worst life choices. What makes it worse is that he loves Mickey, but can’t see that his choices hurt him.
The story, however, should not be forgotten. For the first two-thirds, it is successfully sad to watch Dicky’s drug habit drag him and his brother down. That relationship works. The trouble is that that story becomes partially resolved too early and the movie ends more Mighty Ducks than it should. Luckily, there is a nice reminder that Mickey’s life has been so terrible and we’re still rooting for him at the last punch.