Starring Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, and Christian Bale. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, December 17, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
David O. Russell has made movies about an Oedipal adolescent (Spanking the Monkey), multiple dysfunctional families (Flirting With Disaster), con men exploiting the first Gulf War (Three Kings), and, well, who can say what I Heart Huckabees is actually about?
Watch the trailer for The Fighter.
What that crop has in common, aside from Russell having at least had a hand in writing them, is that all are, in some sense, comedies. There’s not much funny in The Fighter, except for its pitiless portrayal of working-class losers in Lowell, Massachusetts. That down-at-heel mill town was the birthplace of Jack Kerouac, a figure certainly unknown to the denizens portrayed in this take on boxer Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg, who also helped produce.
The film’s central battle is not with other boxers but between Micky and older half brother Dicky, bitten off and angrily masticated by Christian Bale, in starvation-diet mode again. Both “boys” endure the aggressive ministrations of a mama (Melissa Leo) who makes Martin Scorsese’s mob wives look weak.
Only when the mild-mannered Mickster hooks up with a sharp local girl (Amy Adams)—despised by his unusually hideous sisters for “actin’ all superior ’cause she been ta college”—does he start looking out for himself. He’s losing Dicky anyway, to a crack house of idiotic horrors, and the tug of war between competing loyalties grows wearying: you can tell that four people worked on the story. Wahlberg’s self-deprecating performance pays off in the end, though, just as The Fighter delivers the incendiary final match it promises for almost two hours.
By the way, the director’s next is a Frank Capra–style comedy called Nailed, in which Jessica Biel takes on the power brokers of Washington, D.C. No word as to whether or not any science-fiction or cowboy epics are in the works.