fighter.jpgBy now you all know the story. Two brothers, one a crackhead, the other a straight-arrow. Both are fighters, one on the way down, the other on the way up.

Domineering mom, dysfunctional but loving family. Barmaid with a heart of gold.

Co-producer Darron (The Wrestler) Aronofsky knows his gritty rustbelt atmosphere. The collars here in the film’s location of Lowell, Mass, aren’t just blue, they’re fraying blue, just like the language that punctuates the dialogue like so much taser fire.

I went to see The Fighter mainly so I could make a few reasoned calls as to Oscars, and I will just cut to the chase and admit that yes, Christian Bale should absolutely walk away with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Skeletal, glazed-eyed and letter perfect with New England accent and rhythms, Bale – along with co-star Mark Wahlberg – creates the most physically electrifying opening to a film this side of Do the Right Thing. I mean he practically flames out just strutting through the neighborhood, hugging the folks lining their front porches to catch a glimpse of “The Pride of Lowell,” past and present.

But here’s the deal. The Fighter is a small film. And director David Russell is no Aronofsky. Loaded with juicy acting, the film just isn’t as good as its actors.

Bale is a genius, and his part almost lets him fully unwind. Almost. But the key female co-stars have little to work with. Amy Adams (formerly the demure novice in Doubt) is all over her role, showing off a surprising range that, again, cries out for something more than cliché. Ditto the astonishing Melissa Leo, who all but disappears into her bleached, teased hairdo, as a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, loving matriarch of a family of losers. Yet the actress isn’t given much more than an anti-Hallmark outline of a role – a role that could have been much richer and more complex.

The film can’t climb out of its “based upon a true story” confinement. It goes exactly where you think it will, and any one of the Rocky films went there first, and better.