Impressively, The Fighter turns out not to afford Wahlberg the kind of oversized role that The Wrestler offered Mickey Rourke. Wahlberg is content to portray the 1993 Micky, the quiet younger brother. He is the only sensible member of an Irish-American chav family led by his manager mother (Melissa Leo). He has seven (count “em) sisters who never stray far from their mother’s couch lest judgment is cast. (One sister is played by the startlingly abrasive Jill Quigg, the real-life Southie junkie who stole scenes in Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone from Oscar nominee Amy Ryan as Dottie, her couch-bound best friend.)
Wahlberg underplays beautifully, especially when his gorgeous new girlfriend (Amy Adams of Enchanted) squares off against his mom over how her maternal favoritism toward her first son Dicky (Christian Bale of The Dark Knight) is undermining Micky’s career. With Christmas family reunions coming up, lots of guys will identify with Wahlberg’s look of ineffectual regret as his female loved ones wallop one another.
Bale plays the manic and delusional”but always entertaining”half-brother and trainer Dicky Eklund. A jabber with a long reach, Dicky had gone the distance against the great Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978 but then threw away his potential on drugs. He assumes that the film crew following him around is recording his putative comeback, although the real-life documentary aired on HBO in 1995 under the title High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell.
Watching High, it’s evident that Bale impersonates the motormouth Dicky better than Dicky himself. Bale employs an overbite and thrust-forward shoulders to make the excitable ex-contender resemble a goony bird of prey.
Bale is the rare male child star to later enjoy a career as a leading man. Perhaps that’s because the movie that was expected to make him famous at 13 in 1987, Steven Spielberg’s jaw-dropping Empire of the Sun, for which Bale beat out 4,000 other lads, was a box-office dud. Filmmakers typically cast undersized older boys, but Bale grew up to be a six-footer who normally weighs about 185 pounds. Yet he appears in The Fighter as if he just might make the welterweight limit of 147 pounds. Unlike in 2003’s The Machinist, when Bale notoriously starved himself down to 122 pounds, he looks healthy and athletic here, an addict of such superior metabolism that he sets a bad example for the rest of us by not dying of drugs.
As of last report, Dicky is still alive and still getting arrested.
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