“The Fighter”
 
“The Fighter” is a real-life story, of “Irish” Micky Ward, the pride of Lowell , Massachusetts , rising to the world welterweight title.  But it sure wasn’t an easy road.
Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is the kind of club fighter that we expect to see sweating in an obscure downtown gym somewhere, punishing an already-battered speed bag and sparring with split headgear to a disinterested audience of a handful of wannabes and hangers-on.  Always, his chain-smoking mother Alice (Melissa Leo) has been his agent, and his older brother Dicky (Christian Bale) his trainer.  But Dicky, after an infamous title fight with Sugar Ray, where the champ either slipped or was knocked down, depending on whose version of events you believe, has slid steadily downhill ever since that fateful loss by decision.  He’s on drugs now, manic, running with the wrong crowd, late for his appointments, constantly preoccupied and distracted.  We can see his fiery energy, still, but he has no focus.  Micky has been indulgent of his older brother’s vices and irresponsibility, as has his rough-edged mother, who turns a blind eye to anything she doesn’t want to see. 
The turning point for Micky was to meet Charlene (Amy Adams), the good-looking young bartender at the local pub.  She knows what throwing away potential is like:  she wasted a “full boat” scholarship in high jumping at a prestigious college because it was too much work.  She knows she messed up, and she can’t go back and change that, and she doesn’t want Micky to experience the same kind of disappointment in unfulfilled potential.  When Dicky is finally busted and sent to prison, Micky makes his break from his oppressive upbringing and begins to train on his own.
But we’re not that easily shed of our own background, no matter how non-empowering.  Eventually, Micky is the one who has to insist that arrogant Dicky and surly Mom and possessive Charlene, not to mention his gaggle of rough-edged sisters who serve as a kind of blue-collar Greek chorus, are just going to have to get along, for his sake.  And now the pugilistic career is ready to bloom at last.
Yes, the boxing scenes are violent:  how could they not be?  But there’s just enough here about the mechanics of the “sweet science” to convince the viewer that there’s more to it than just standing in the middle of the ring and brawling:  there’s strategy and movement and conditioning and, yes, even an appreciation of hoary tradition, much of it unspoken and unchartered.  Do we root for our hometown warrior to win?  Of course.  Even if his triumph is only temporary.  That may be all the fifteen minutes of fame he will ever need.
You would think this movie’s primary performance would be Micky’s, and though Wahlberg knows how to play the street fighter-turned-noble gladiator, it’s Bale who really steals this show.  His intense, peripatetic, high-energy performance casts such a fluorescent glare that the other performances, crass and correct as they may be, retreat into the shadows cast by dim luminescence.  Bale is a force of nature here. And here’s predicting that he’ll receive the recognition he deserves for it.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas