It's really been six years since the last time David O. Russell directed something? Or, more accurately, directed something that was finished and/or released? It's too bad, I really like his stuff. And The Fighter sees him stepping out of his comfort zone a bit and it ends up working out really well. Sure, it hits some of the same beats as a lot of sports movies, but its done so well, with some great performances especially from Melissa Leo s Micky Ward's mother. But the standout here is definitely Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund, Micky Ward's troubled brother. I have to admit that before this movie came out I didn't know a thing about Irish Micky Ward and his rise and comeback. Obviously he and his brother Dicky are big news around Lowell and the surrounding area. But watching the real Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward, its remarkable how close Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale get to capturing them. The real brothers even appear during the credits at the end of the film, and its really sort of eerie. Roger Ebert in his review claimed that Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward has no personality, but having seen the real Micky Ward I have to disagree, compared to Dicky, Micky really does seem to be that quiet and soft spoken in real life. At any rate, David O. Russell approaches the material from a fresh perspective. Its also like a weird companion piece to Winter's Bone in that besides the actual boxing one of the main struggles in the story is between Micky and his family, highlighting how family can be both a liberating force as well as a stifling one. And its nice to see a movie like this with a happy ending that seems earned.
A sidenote: in the last few months learning about Micky Ward, I learned of his three matched with Arturo Gatti that were named matches of the year for each time they fought (three times). They should make a Fighter 2 just to highlight these matches. From what I've seen they were like epic, real life Rocky bouts. Its interesting when you choose a piece of a person's life to highlight and some might argue that his greatest matches couldn't even be covered. Honestly, as far as how good the movie was its neither here nor there, but it is interesting. As Pat O'D said, and I am paraphrasing: it's sort of like having Rocky IV but not showing Rocky fight Ivan Drago at the end.