Mark Wahlberg's dukes it out in the ring and at home in, The Fighter, David O. Russell's new boxing melodrama. Wahlberg plays real-life fighter Micky Ward, aka "Irish," from the blue-collar town of Lowell, Mass. Trained by his crackhead brother Dicky - a once near-great boxer and now serious troublemaker - and under the thumb of his loud mouth/control freak Ma, Micky's got what it takes to "be a contender" if only he can get his wacked-out family under control and into his corner.
Among this defective tribe of Beantown squabblers, the wannabe scene-steeler is an emaciated and highly energized Cristian Bale as big bro Dicky. Dicky's a semi-pathetic, has-been with a delusion for his glory days and his famous bout with Sugar Ray Leonard. Bale fully commits to this part in appearence and demeanor, and though Dicky knows his stuff in the ring - "Head-body-head-body!" "Tire him out!" he shouts ringside - in the streets he's a mess and an addict. He's too big of a liability to coach his lil bro Micky to a title.
Mellisa Leo, as Mick's manager and mother Alice, is a force to be reckoned with. Like a verbal knife-fighter fresh off an appearence on Springer, Alice also has a constant litter of trashy clones - that reminded me of the Tribiani sisters -covering her back. If Dicky is fightin through his brother than Mama Dearest is a fighter as well, first through Dicky now through Micky and she doesn't go down easy.
This family-on-the-verge officially melts down after Micky gets pummelled in an ill-advised Atlantic City showdown and Dicky ends up in the pen. Mick starts thinkin about new management. Besides his new girlfriend, barmaid Charlene - an off-kilter, brawlin and swearin Amy Adams - pressures him to give his fams the proverbial boot.
Wahlberg is the most reserved of all - typically strong and silent - but Bale and Leo are the standouts, chewin it up in support. I was most impressed with the non-flashy, naturalist directorial stylings of David O. Russell (Three Kings) who shoots the tremendous boxing scenes in a grainy, 90's HBO-Special manner that gives each one a palpable realism as if they're playing on my old 15 inch tube from 1992 with antennas sticking out the back. These scenes are the best Russell has to offer.
With all the obnoxious hamming and bickering on display from the cast, the film revels in its trailer-trash, familial conflicts that seem stripped from an exceptionally well produced episode of Celebrity Intervention - much to my dismay. On the other hand, the boxing... it's such an enduring dramatic device because it reaches us on such an, all or nothing, by-the-boot-straps, primal level - that feels both societal and animalistic at the same time. The film is its most stimulating in these perfectly pitched and rutheless man-to-man moments where everything is at stake. But (sigh) it's the disruptive and ugly family dysfunction that dominates the ring, and I wasn't cheering.