Technically speaking, THE FIGHTER, the character director David O. Russell named his film after, is Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), an aging boxer badly managed by his mother, Alice, and sporadically coached by his crack addict, ex-boxer brother Dicky (Christian Bale), but given what actually gets the most screen time an alternate title could be “watch Christian Bale act like a drug addict for two hours.”
Wahlberg’s mild-mannered Micky takes a backseat to Bale’s hyper-active, fast-talking, super-skinny Dicky, who, like any addict, puts his addiction before everything else including his “job” coaching Micky. This never seems to bother Micky, who’s happy as long as his big bro is around. Their mother, too, can see no wrong in her sick-as-death oldest son. Together Alice and Dicky, as manager and coach, overact their way through the movie like some small town, Massachusetts version of Laurel and Hardy, alternately slapping and hitting and laughing and hugging. In one particularly over-the-top emotional scene, Alice and Dicky get into another one of their fights and Dicky talks her down by singing the Bee Gees “I Started a Joke,” which elicited actual laughter from the audience. However, even though I felt that watching their performance was like being beaten over the head with a blunt club, they each took home a Golden Globe.
But if we’re talking about appropriate titles, perhaps “The Fighters” is a better fit. When Micky isn’t fighting in the ring, he’s fighting with his family (this includes about a half dozen sisters as well as the mother of his child), or his family is fighting with each other or his sisters and mom start a fight with his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams); Name-calling, hair-pulling and fist-throwing ensues.
It gets to the point where nearly every other scene involves a fight, either physical or verbal, but after taking a two-hour beating all we get to end on is a sappy note about how family should stick together, no matter what. O. Russell shamelessly pulls on every heartstring – abusive families, drug addiction, broken homes and, of course, the simple, honest, hardworking home-town hero struggling against the odds, trying to find love, pursuing his dreams and succeeding in the end. If this goes on to air on Lifetime (minus all the cursing), I won’t be surprised.