The opening of The Fighter consists of Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) sitting on a couch with his half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) talking about how Micky fights in the boxing ring to a camera crew that is filming Dicky for a documentary. The next shot is of Micky paving the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts and Dicky is walking behind him throwing punches and acting like a showman. The two then walk home followed by the camera crew to give us a look of what life is like in Lowell. Like most Boston set movies, there is a mythic sensibility of machismo and religion and the gray area where the two somehow meet in Boston and its surrounding areas. Although this movie isn't just about the physical environment, but the emotional environment of these characters as well. It's one full of ego, ambition, and disfunction.
David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) is a masterful storyteller and this character-fueled story is one of his most effective and heartfelt examples of his craft. Micky is an up-and-coming boxer who has been trained by Dicky for all of his life. Dicky is famous in Lowell for being the guy who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, but Dicky has some secrets. He's a crack addict for one and is never around when Micky needs him. Throw in Alice (Melissa Leo), Mickey's controlling stepmother who almost loves her children too much that she forgets to care for them equally, and you have a family that will crack under any external pressure. That pressure comes in the form of Charlene (Amy Adams) a bar-girl that Micky really likes, but Alice despises her because she is distracting Micky from his shot at fame. These characters are fully fleshed out, but in a subtle way that doesn't make anything they do feel too ridiculous or dramatic for the sake of conflict in storytelling.
Even when the movie might seem predictable or typical, the characters are just well written and performed that all of the emotional weight they carry is constantly having an impact on the audience. My only problem was that some of the family disfunction was taken lightly and played for humor, but looking back on the film, the disfunction has just as many dark moments and it gives the film a more realistic touch. I found myself comparing this to the 2008 film Doubt where the performances carried a story that might not've been as good without four fantastic actors (instead of Streep, Seymour Hoffman, Adams, and Davis we have Wahlberg, Bale, Adams, and Leo).
Wahlberg nails the ambition and timidity that Micky feels, Leo is threatening while still motherly, and Adams gives one of the best portrayals of an independent woman that I've seen in a while. Yet, Bale is the one who transforms into his role. He always worked so well in a supporting capacity and the end result of his style of acting in The Fighter is one of the most tragic and redeeming character arcs I've seen in a while. Very emotional with every moment you spend with these characters being more insightful than the next.