Veteran boxing fans are undoubtedly familiar with the exploits of “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), the light-welterweight pugilist from Lowell, Massachusetts best remembered for a trio of memorable matches against the late Arturo Gatti. In fact, two of the gladiators’ epic battles (one in 2002, the other in 2003) were dubbed “The Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine.
But don’t expect to see any of those classic showdowns in “The Fighter,” an overcoming-the-odds bio-pic which culminates a couple of years earlier with Micky’s first world championship bout in London against the division’s then reigning titleholder, Shea Neary (Anthony Molinari). For cinematic purposes, director David O. Russell (Three Kings) was far more interested here in recreating the rampant dysfunction marking his protagonist’s personal life than with merely chronicling the aspiring contender’s rise inside the ring.
Consequently, the character-driven plotline proves particularly compelling, thanks to its examination of Micky’s angst as he contemplates cutting the ties to the albatross hanging around his neck, namely, his smothering tight-knit family. Reminiscent of the cast of Jersey Shore, except with thick New England accents, the trashy clan is run with an iron fist by his domineering mom, Alice (Melissa Leo), a meddling matriarch who doubles as his business manager.
Meanwhile, she’s directed her other son, Dicky (Christian Bale), to serve as Micky’s trainer. But that hasn’t been working out at all because he’s a washed-up boxer with a crack pipe dream of mounting a comeback, despite a bad drug habit and regular run-ins with the law. The boys also have seven sisters, gum-smacking, couch potatoes sporting mullets who function as a veritable Greek chorus inclined to rubber stamp their momma’s every wish, however unreasonable.
Micky finally summons up the gumption to do something about his family’s always frustrating his potential after he falls in love at first sight with Charlene (Amy Adams), a college-educated bartender offering him the kind of encouragement and support that he really needs. The proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back arrives when he brings her home to meet the folks only to have them tarnish her name with unsubstantiated gossip designed to wreck their budding romance before it even has a chance to blossom.
That unwarranted attempt at sabotage has a salutary effect on Micky who steels his resolve to find a capable corner man to replace Dicky in order to begin his inexorable assault on the boxing crown. A fitting tribute to a real-life Rocky and Adrian featuring a quartet of inspired performances by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams.