The Fighter is not a boxing movie.

It’s a completely-engrossing redemption story about two brothers. It’s an amazing character study that should win Christian Bale an Oscar. It’s a documentary-style exposé about crack addiction. And it’s an often-humorous story about one colossal train wreck of a family.

Boxing may very well be the backdrop, but make no mistake about it, the real story of The Fighter is what happens outside the ring.

In 1993, Micky Eklund (Mark Wahlberg) is an aspiring boxer moonlighting as a road paver in Lowell, Massachusetts. His older brother Dicky (Christian Bale) is his trainer, who began boxing when he was barely a teenager and is best known for going the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard in ’78. Micky is clean, dedicated, and hoping to get a title shot. Dicky’s addicted to crack, a loser, and unable to see that his career as a fighter is long gone.

After a disastrous beat-down at the hands of a fighter who had 20 pounds on him, Micky is ready to quit the sport, frustrated at his brother who’s never there to train him, at his mother (Melissa Leo) who’s mis-managing his career, and at himself for not having what it takes to make it.

Then he meets local waitress Charlene (Amy Adams), who gives him just the encouragement he needs. When Dicky gets sent to jail for running a prostitution scam, the road clears for Micky to finally get back on track with a new trainer and a new manager. That is, until Micky realizes he still needs his brother.

Directing his first movie in six years, David O. Russell (Three Kings) presents The Fighter as a gritty, rough, heartbreaking story set in the streets of blue collar (heck, let’s just call it ‘white trash’) America, where the city of Lowell is just as much a character as any of the cast members. The accents, attitudes, and atmosphere are perfectly portrayed and only add to the realism of this gripping true-life story.

Wahlberg’s performance as a beaten man who’s just trying to keep his life and his family together is truly something of note. He won’t get any attention come Oscar time, but that’s only because he’s sharing the screen with career-best performances by Bale, Leo, and even Adams (this is the same lilting pixie from Enchanted?).

Across the board, The Fighter is just about everything you could ask for in a movie. It’s not every day that a movie that’s often so difficult to watch (the content, not the presentation) can also so completely riveting.

5/5 stars