I will be in the minority here. I expected much more from this - very nice, very cute - movie.
While I was watching it, I started thinking - never a good sign - is boxing such a popular sport in the US? Judging from the amount of movies on the subject - more, I guess, than on any other sport including baseball - it must be the most popular and the most practised. And it's not like we don't have boxing in Italy - we do, but nobody can recall an Italian movie about this sport (there have been actually two - both very minor). And I remember one French movie. But why so many in America? It must have something to do with the American society or the American character - I don't know, but I know that if one sees it as a metaphor it's interesting, and can explain many things.
David O. Russell is an intelligent man. I know because I met him. Back then he had just made a (good and personal) movie which had been a flop in the US and he hoped could do better in Europe (it didn't). He was understandably bitter. He must be in a better mood now - The Fighter is, I guess, a hit and he's got an Oscar nomination. So probably it doesn't really matter to him that the movie isn't very good nor very personal - though, as it often happens when an "auteur" puts his hands on material that others conceived and shaped, each single scene is directed in a way that makes it impossible for the viewer to forget that there's "someone" behind the camera.
The movie isn't boring and some scenes - the family scenes especially - aren't badly written. But it's almost scared of being deep - and honestly, I can forgive superficiality about almost anything, but not - I repeat: not - on relationships between brothers, one of the most interesting and most complex bonds two human beings can have. I didn't even expect Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger, but I'm sure much more could have been done with what on paper seems like an intriguing situation and dynamics. Is it because all these characters are still alive? Very possible - this is the boxing equivalent of Coal Miner's Daughter; like that movie, it makes everyone happy because it's so unlike real life. There was a moment when I thought: now the worst thing they could do is sending the now reformed, formerly "bad" brother to make peace with the girl. Two seconds after, I got the porch scene. The easiest way, always.
Wahlberg is very good as the reluctant hero though, and the movie is generally very well acted, even in the smallest roles. I don't know if Leo is necessarily better than Bonham Carter or Weaver but I won't complain if she wins - and hers is, at least, a real supporting part from a real supporting actress. As for Christian Bale... I can't even say that his is a bad performance, and the comparison that came to my mind - to Cliff Robertson in Charly - is probably unfair. But yes, I can't deny that I found him mechanical and forced, showy in all the wrong ways. It's the kind of acting style that Marcello Mastroianni would have hated - not just because of the sacrifice of the flesh (and honestly, can you imagine an Italian actor giving up his daily dose of spaghetti alla carbonara?) but because it's all on the outside, with little emotional truth. His could have been a touching character, but as it is he puts the movie off-balance. One can be both extrovert and "real", but Bale can't do that, or at least can't do that here. I can't believe that he will win over Rush or even Hawkes.