Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) was at one time "The Pride of Lowell," Massachusetts, a factory town now on the skids. He was a working-class boxer who managed to survive 10 rounds with Sugar Ray Leonard and has been bragging about knocking him to the canvas (Dickie ignores all those who contend that Sugar Ray was tripped). His feisty mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), has chosen Dickie as her favorite child even though she has raised a total of nine children with several different husbands. But Dickie's major challenge is his crack-addiction which seeds the grandiose idea that HBO is in town to do a show about his boxing comeback. Of course, they are really filming a documentary titled High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell.
Since he has nothing much to do anymore, Dickie has been serving as manager for his younger half-brother Mickey Ward (Mark Walhberg). Mickey has talent as a boxer but has not mastered the skills and strategies to make himself a winner. After two brutal defeats, this confused young man wonders whether he can trust his mother and brother to continue guiding his career.
When Dickie lands in prison, Mickey draws closer to Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), a local bartender and college graduate who takes an interest in his destiny. She becomes the target of supreme abuse from the Ward clan of seven sisters when she and Mickey suggest that it may be time for him to accept a promoter's offer to pay him to train in Las Vegas. Eventually, Mickey chooses to stay in town and takes on a local boxing devotee as his manager. Without the burden of his irresponsible brother who constantly puts him down, Mickey transforms from lackadaisical fighter into a winner with a string of victories. But in the background, his mother and brother are waiting for the right moment to seize control of his life and boxing career.
David O. Russell is the perfect director for this combination biopicture and dramedy. He did a superb job chronicling the lives of those in dysfunctional families in Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, an Episcopal priest, has written: "Every family has its own map of what may be known, which territory is permissible and safe to walk on, which places are dangerous. Every family has its edges. Trouble is, the map doesn't always show where they are, and sometimes people fall off." That is a perfect description of what happens to Mickey when he tries to make it on his own with the help and encouragement of Charlene and his new manager. But the old alliances and dependencies come to the fore again as this winning boxer gets a chance to fight for world championship in his weight-class.
The Fighter evokes Rocky with its underdog hero and working-class settings. But what really lends this dramedy its clout are the strong and daring performances by Christian Bale as the wild ex-boxer who chooses to remake himself and Melissa Leo as his manipulative and insensitive mother who has the bad habit of either denigrating or ignoring the noteworthy triumphs of her younger son.
Special features on the DVD include a commentary by director David O. Russell and "The Warriors Code: filming The Fighter".