Directed by David O. Russell
Two years after Darren Aronofsky reemerged from the depths of pretension with The Wrestler, David O. Russell returns from more than half a decade of troubled productions and leaked on-set tirades with The Fighter (executive produced and originally planned for Aronofsky), a working class pugilist tale based on welterweight hero "Irish" Micky Ward and half-brother Dickie Eklund. Unburdened by its obvious predecessor's maudlin self-pity, The Fighter at first glance appears a step up. Russell disappointingly mothballs his caustic, neurotic humor for an unfamiliar restraint and earnestness, but compensates by generating a triad of fine performances: a subdued Mark Wahlberg as the diffident Ward, a hairsprayed Melissa Leo as his tough yet deluded manager/mother, and a wild-eyed and emaciated Christian Bale—for once serious without being dull—as Eklund, Ward's wise but self-destructive trainer who descends into crack addiction while boasting of past glory as a "Sugar" Ray Leonard rival and the pride of Lowell, Mass. (onscreen as itself).
Still, there are too many false notes here: a contrived stab at artless poignancy as Dickie sings "I Started a Joke" to comfort mom after another crack binge; the woefully repeated comic relief of Ward's undifferentiated gaggle of thick-accented sisters; a surfeit of uninspired classic rock-scored fight and training montages. Likely believing the Hibernian setting and Ward's divided allegiance between dysfunctional family and promising career would automatically deliver a no-nonsense underdog drama, three mediocre screenwriters reshape messier lives—especially Eklund's—to fit into a pat redemption arc that blanches out deeper shades of triumph and pain.
Opens December 10