Directed by David O. Russell, The Fighter sees Mark Wahlberg play a boxer managed by his brother (Christian Bale) who used to be a professional himself before becoming a junkie screw-up. The struggle becomes to figure out a way to juggle family, relationships and a career without anything blowing up in anyone's face.
The idea of a gritty warts-and-all look at a fighter's life isn't exactly a brand new concept, especially since The Wrestler only came out two years prior to this movie, but The Fighter is a well-made enough film that it remains compelling from start to finish regardless. The dynamics between the different members of this family are electric and Bale's Oscar-winning portrayal of Dicky Eklund is impressive to say the least. Of course, the actor lost a freakish amount of weight for the role and that physical metamorphosis crossed with a memorably hyper, shifty-eyed performance makes it one of Bale's must-see movies. Mark Wahlberg is much more understated but does a good job portraying a guy seemingly doomed to hold so much weight on his shoulders that it could end up being destructive. You do fear for the guy's well-being and you do want him to succeed in the end. There's a strength and a fragility to the character reminiscent of Rocky and, of course, Mickey Rourke's wrestler. Amy Adams also pops up as Wahlberg's mouthy barmaid girlfriend and she's very convincing and likeable in a rougher role than we're used to see her play.
The film itself is quite tense: it's an ensemble character study about several incredibly flawed people so you get a sense that everything could go very wrong at any moment, and it comes very close to that at some points. It's also a terrific boxing movie and boasts some really strong fights throughout. Unlike, say Rocky Balboa, The Fighter isn't so much about proving something to oneself or anyone, it's more about handling responsibilities, protecting legacies and about how someone's success can be mostly due to how supportive his close environment is. Melissa Leo won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Wahlberg's tough, over-protective mother and it's admittedly a really good performance, every clash the character has with Amy Adams' bad tempered gal is certainly intense. The film is also funny at times, mostly thanks to Dicky's delusions and his constant window jumps whenever his mother shows up at some crack den he hangs out at often, but this is always peppered with tragedy so, although there is humour in there, it's also bittersweet.
While the film doesn't deliver too many big surprises and can feel a little anti-climactic right at the end, it's still an extremely well acted, written and directed effort you should definitely check out, especially since, with the likes of Real Steel and Grudge Match, good boxing movies are scarce these days...