“The true tale of the early years of legendary fighter ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Wahlberg), who triumphed over a complex family situation, including a crack-addict brother/trainer (Bale), to become a welterweight boxing champ in the 1980s. While The Fighter, for its first hour or so, might look like a kind of grim inner-city parable — crack-addicted brothers living on the fumes of old dreams, hatchet-faced mothers exploiting their son’s pugilistic ambitions against a background of bar-fights and asphalt — underneath it’s impossible not to discern the throaty roar of a six-cylinder Hollywood engine. This is a rousing, masterly assemblage of rags-to-riches, triumph-over-the-odds, hopes-and-dreams-hanging-on-one-big-fight boxing movie clichés. It’s also the most uplifting, exuberant fun you’re likely to have at the movies this year. The comparison is inevitable, so let’s get it over with: The Fighter is Rocky for this millennium. The Fighter is Rocky for this millennium.
This is essentially the story of a boxer boxed-in, on one side by the limited possibilities offered by life in working-class Lowell, Massachusetts, and on all remaining sides by his family: this is a guy fighting out of the ring as much as he is in it. Wahlberg seems to be coming to realise that he’s at his best not as an action star but when he lets his guard down, and particularly when playing family dramas — The Yards, Four Brothers, Boogie Nights — he can be a revelation. (He’s also an impressive comic actor when he lets himself do it — this year’s The Other Guys was an inexplicably underrated hoot and much of his appeal in Scorsese’s Departed was as potty-mouthed comic relief.)
If Bale does get the Oscar nod at Wahlberg’s expense, it’ll be difficult not to feel as you did for Tom Cruise in Rain Man; like Cruise, he quietly gives a believable, restrained performance while his co-star launches a thespian blitzkrieg right next to him. But after Bale’s spectacular rockets have fallen to earth, the performance that stays with you is Wahlberg’s: a rueful shrug towards the camera in the very final shot as he’s elbowed out of the limelight by his brother yet again reveals a guy used, at least once upon a time, to being eclipsed by his siblings. After all, in real life he grew up with eight of them. He’s the bruised heart of the movie, and this is a movie with a very big heart indeed.” EMPIRE MAGAZINE