David O. Russell’s boxing-and-family drama transcends the usual uplifting sports movie conventions while also deploying them to great effectiveness. The Fighter
is the story of real-life pugilist Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who’s weighed down by a crackhead brother (Christian Bale) and a meddling manager-mother (Melissa Leo). Once they’re out of his way and a local waitress (Amy Adams) is in his bed, he starts piling up the knockouts. As an emaciated loser addicted to both drugs and memories of his own boxing glory, Bale is flamboyantly brilliant. But it’s Wahlberg’s movie, his slow-burn performance revealing Micky’s struggle to remain loyal to his family while getting off their sinking ship. The boxing action follows a familiar underdog arc, but the film’s heaviest punches land outside the ring.