Look, either we give Christian Bale an Oscar or God knows what he’ll do to himself. Have you seen him in The Fighter ? That dude looks like the “after” picture in Satan’s makeover brochure. Bale didn’t just drop weight to play a crackhead, he went full Skeletor up in this bitch. The most shocking acting transformation? He plays a people person.

The Fighter is a movie in which the fighter and the fighting are the least interesting parts. At it’s worst, the film focuses on the coulda-been-a-contenda “true” story of “Irish” Micky Ward, a Bostonian road worker obligatorily played by Mark Wahlberg. Were that casting any more obvious, they’d share the same initials. Wait … Everything from Ward’s “one last chance to be champ” to his romance with perpetual midriff barer Charlene (Amy Adams), the sassy barmaid, feels tired and expected. Thankfully, that’s not really what the movie is about.

In reality, The Fighter is an F-bomb-dropping, Norman Rockwell-on-acid take on a poor family overpopulated with harpies and boneheads. It’s like Rocky by way of “The Jerry Springer Show.” Bale plays Dicky Eklund, Micky’s older brother and trainer who also happens to love himself some crack. Dicky is a fallen fighter; once the pride of his small hometown after giving Sugar Ray Leonard all he could handle, he now survives on his undeniable charisma and the protection of his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo). Alice may be Micky’s manager, but her devotion is clearly to her eldest son.

With a junkie trainer and a chain-smoking, white trash mom for a manager, the drama of Micky’s time in the ring pales with his trainwreck-a-licious experiences out of it. Director David O. Russell must have agreed, as the verbal sparring matches make the boxing bouts look flatter than week-old Diet Coke. Writers Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson seem to have written two separate films: one a boring-ass, Disneyfied, feel-good sports story prominently featuring a comeback montage set to Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle” and the other a brilliant deconstruction of a familial implosion.

It’s that second movie, the one that Bale is in, that buoys the whole affair. When the real Dicky is shown alongside the credits, all doubt is stripped away: Bale gave the best performance of 2010 and willed The Fighter to must-see status in doing so. Now let’s give him Oscar because who knows what he’ll do to himself next if we don’t.

Grade = B+


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