So you think your family is crazy? Wait until you see Micky Ward's clan in The Fighter. They swallow him. Micky is a junior welterweight boxer and the central character of the movie, but the real stars of the show are his half-brother and his mother, with his seven sisters lumbering around the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, like a portable Jerry Springer Show audience. If you're not a fan of boxing, don't worry: The film is far less about whether Micky will win any big matches than it is about whether he can get his family to move out of the way long enough to let him try.
Micky Ward is a real person, and Mark Wahlberg has been trying to get his story to the screen for years. Wahlberg stars as Micky, giving a performance so low-key that at first it seems like a mistake – until you realize that Micky is a supporting player in his family and career.
The stars of his family are also his managers – half-brother Dicky Eklund is a local legend for his glory days in boxing. He once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard! Or maybe Leonard tripped, but you'll never hear the family agree to such an outrageous assertion. Now Dicky's a big talking crack addict who remains charismatic in his own weird way. Christian Bale portrays Dicky and he is fantastic, presenting a man built of cartoonish tics without turning him into a cartoon.
If you wonder whether Bale's portrait of Dicky is too much and Wahlberg's portrait of Micky too little, sit tight for the closing credits, which feature a few moments with the real men. All doubt will be removed.
The other half of the management team is mother Alice, an imposing figure whose hair goes up to there. The wonderful Melissa Leo (Homicide, Frozen River) loves all her kids, but probably Dicky a little more than the others. No matter, she won't let anyone mess with her children, just as she won't let any of them mess with her.
Alice ends up at odds with Charlene, Micky's new girlfriend, who dares to support his efforts to do what's best for his life. As Charlene, Amy Adams offers a character who is startled by Crazy-Brother, Bad-Ass Mama and the Goon Girls, but perfectly capable of standing up to the lot of them.
David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart-Sign Huckabees) directs effectively. The film is kinetic but not jittery, the washed-out look of late-'90s-early '00s Lowell reflects tough times without a hint of despair. Some may question the decision to present the sisters as a multi-limbed creature rather than individuals, but I enjoyed their collective hulking presence as Lowell's equivalent of the Borg.
The boxing story covered in The Fighter is a minor one, which is fine by me. This is a movie about the dynamics of a family, about what it's like to be the brother in the back, about grandeur and denial and perseverance. The acting is great, it's funny at the damnedest moments and ranks among the best films of 2010.