The Fighter - ***
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Whalberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
Review: There is a scene in 'The Fighter' where Dicky Edlund (Bale), after getting out of jail and being 8 months sober carries a cake back to the drugs addicts he used to call his friends. They invite Dicky up to get high for 'old times sake.' Dicky thinks for a second and hands them the cake that was made for him that read "The Pride of Lowell is Back," and walked away leaving his old friends and old life behind. Not a word was said by Bale but it was this scene that solidified his performance as one of the best of the year.
Bale's character Dicky is the once 'rising star' boxer and brother of current boxer "Irish" Micky Ward. Micky is Dicky's younger brother and has been living in his shadow for years. As professional boxers these two are the biggest stars in Lowell. Back in the day, Dicky even knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight, he didn't win, but he knocked him down. This has made him a legend amongst legends in their small town. Micky never achieved such a feat and has found himself in a bit of a slump. Dicky is trying to train him to get to a level he never reached, but we learn he is also in the midst of his own comeback.
Micky's whole family is involved in his boxing career. Even though Dicky is making a "comeback" they all recognize that his career is over and the 'Pride of Lowell' title has be taken up by Micky. This isn't something his family is helping him with necessarily, actually, it is something they are forcing on him. Their family had a taste of relevance once with his older brother and wants it again and more and Micky is their only hope. I am not sure what it is about past success, but once people from limited means come into a little bit of it they want it again so bad they will do anything for it. This is not the surprising part, rather, what is surprising is how much they will manipulate anyone they can to get what they want, even if it's their own family.
The Ward/Eklund family has a matriarch that throws out lines such as "are you gonna let her talk to your mother like that?" and "are you gonna take sides against me in my own kitchen when you owe me $200?" Quotes used to manipulate her children to bending to her will. This is the type of family that hangs the familial relationship over each other's head instead of embracing and helping each other as normal family members should. They wear their relationships like an albatross around the neck as opposed to something they can carry with them and use later. Micky has to wear the heaviest of these albatrosses as he is guilted into having his brother as trainer (even though he never shows up on time) and his mother as manager (even though she puts him in fights he can't win just to get a pay day for herself).
It isn't until Dicky meets Charlene (Adams) at a bar and she talks some sense into him that he realizes he can separate himself from his family in order to do what is best for himself and his career. When he tells his brother and mother they can't train and manage him anymore it causes a rift, but it's one that's necessary to get his family to realize that in order to achieve what they want, they have to do what is best for Micky.
It's alway a tough dynamic when you have to choose between your family and doing what is best, my family often puts that in front and therefore I have never been put in that situation but I can't imagine it to be easy. Micky handles the situation with the limited ability imparted to him by his family and with the confidence given to him by his new gf Charlene. Through all this he is able to accomplish what he needs to get a shot at the title.
As far as sports movies go 'The Fighter' has all th necessary elements: a down and out protagonist who makes good while finding love and conquering his past demons in the process. It's not the storyline that separates 'The Fighter' it is the performances. Bale completely transforms himself into Micky's once great, now crack addicted older brother; Amy Adams is phenomenal as the tough as nails bartender that gets Micky to stand up to his family (finally) and Melissa Leo is great as the mom who came from limited means and will do whatever she can to make sure she doesn't have to go back to the way it was before.
If you're sick of the same old sports formula then you're not gonna be wowed here, but if you can put the storyline aside and look at this for the performances then you will enjoy it and it will be worth your time. Also, this movie elevated my crush on Amy Adams from 'crush' to 'uber-crush:'