In David O. Russell’s entertaining enough true-life boxing/dysfunctional family saga The Fighter, Christian Bale acts up a storm as Dickie Ward, former fighter turned unreliable (though undeniably knowledgeable) crack-addled trainer to Mark Wahlberg’s quietly determined Micky Ward. But while Dickie knows his stuff inside the ring, outside the ring, he’s an unreliable, possibly dangerous mess who quite possibly will drag his talented, luck-starved loyal brother down with him.
It’s the type of showy performance that wins–but not necessarily earns Oscars (my heart lies with Geoffrey Rush from King’s Speech) and Golden Globes (as in the recent awards show).
As boisterous and wrenching as Bale can be (watch for the scene where Dickie sees himself in the HBO documentary about crack in America), you may find yourself longing for the quieter scenes between Micky and his feisty girlfriend, nicely played by Amy Adams. She has the sass to take on Micky’s monstrous mother (a ferocious Melissa Leo in take no prisoners mode–alas, a mode that would steer anyone in the other direction) and the banshees who pass for Micky’s sisters. Miss Adams finds just the right blend of vulnerability and guts for her character; the same goes for Wahlberg’s Micky. You feel his fierce loyalty to his brother, a loyalty that leads him to some spectacularly bad decisions–and yet you understand why he feels he needs Dickie in his corner. By the end, the movie is soundly in Rocky territory but it covers the terrain well.