The Fighter is still playing in some theaters thanks to the Oscars won by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, so I was able to finally get around to seeing it this weekend. It turned out to be funnier than I expected. It actually could qualify as a rather dark comedy about a close-knit but dysfunctional family.
This is a biopic based loosely on the life of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, but the central character is arguably his older half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Dicky is a former boxer, once a local hero but now a washed-up crack addict. He devotes his sober moments to “training” Micky (Mark Wahlberg) who is trying to make a career as a professional boxer. Micky is “managed” by their mother Alice (Melissa Leo). I’m using the quotes because under their tutelage Micky’s careers seems likely to be short and painful.
Micky seems like a nice boy, goodhearted if none too bright. He loves his brother and does what his mother tells him. Alice seems like a real piece of work. Manipulative and delusional, she worships Dicky and seems to think of Micky as a spear-carrier on Dicky’s path to glory.
Things start to look up for Micky when he meets Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams). She’s a college drop-out who is working as a barmaid and doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything with her life, but she’s smart and tough as nails, and she radiates a fierce working-class sexuality that makes her hold on Micky easy to believe.
Under her influence Micky starts to stand up for himself and question his mother and brother. This of course leads to a firestorm of recriminations which causes Micky a great deal of grief. He doesn’t want to be taken advantage of but he genuinely loves his family.
This sort of biopic is pretty much required to have a climactic championship match and a poignant happy ending. There are no surprises here. Where this movie excels is in the quality of the acting and in the wit and irony of the writing.