Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) just needs one big fight to get him where he needs to be. Just one.
He sits in a resort in Atlantic City awaiting his next step on the ladder to a title match. His opponent has been scratched, they can bring in a new fighter, but he outweighs Micky by a weight class. Alice, the matriarch of the Ward clan tells Micky to take the cash and fight the sub. Flash forward a few hours later and Micky sits bruised and humiliated, the substitute was not the schlub that was promised. Prison left nothing to do but lift weights and work-out. Micky was over-matched.
That feeling doesn't stay in the ring either. Alice (a very feisty Melissa Leo) and her domineering daughters surround Micky and sway him in all of his decisions. To boot, Dicky (a transformed Christian Bale), who is in and out jail more often than people change socks, serves as Micky's trainer. Dicky is what Micky ultimately hopes to become, but rails against. A champion who started beating himself. HBO is making a documentary about the failed Eklund, though Dicky thinks the film is about his comeback he's making.
Failure is sweeping Micky up and given the environment around him, it won't take much longer. Charlene (Amy Adams, playing against type) knows his problem isn't his skill, it's his mother. If Micky wants to reach the heights that he is capable of, he must get away from Alice and Dicky. If he wants a title shot, he has to look out for himself. Micky eagerly awaits his chance for a belt, yet feels torn in pushing away the family that has always been there for him, good or bad.
Mark Wahlberg may not get the accolades that Bale and Leo receive for their performances as Dicky and Alice, but how Wahlberg underscores Micky keeps the dynamic from becoming a game of one-upping the other in every scene. Christian Bale in full method-mode and a scenery chewing Melissa Leo would be impossible to combat with in dramatic scenes, yet there are those that complain that Micky Ward is too withdrawn for The Fighter to be successful. It is because that choice seems intentional. Micky is less of a outlandish presence because of his mother and half-brother and his achievements go on his sleeves not in the papers. He is a Lowell boy through and through.
David Russell, known for his trademark dysfunction serves as a journeyman on The Fighter. Russell did not participate in the creation of the script, but what he adds to the final product of the film is heart in a genre that tends too often to go by the numbers. Micky's fights are recreated ignoring overstylized glossy shots in favor of two boxers hitting each other hard. The Fighter succeeds where others don't by getting into the head of an underdog rather than just watching him climb great heights without seeing him out of the ring.