The Fighter does a masterful job of this, slowly revealing to us what the characters already know: that former boxing champ Dicky is now a hopeless crack addict, that he’s worthless as Micky’s trainer, and that the documentary crew that’s supposedly making a movie about his “comeback” is really making a movie about his crack addiction. Here’s how it dribbles out:
- We first meet the brothers as Dicky tells the unseen documentarians about his fighting style vs. Micky’s. We sense that something may be wrong with Dicky, but we aren’t sure what.
- Then we see them raking gravel and shadow-boxing. Now we see the film crew shooting footage of them. Dicky shouts out to passersby that HBO is making a movie about his comeback.
- Then, during the opening montage, we see how popular they are in the neighborhood. (We also see that this is town where drugs are sold openly on the street.)
- Then we see Micky waiting in the ring for Dicky, who hasn’t shown up to train him. Instead, a cop shows up and offers to train Micky. The documentarians say that they don’t know where Dicky is, but the cops says, “You know where he is.” (This is the first point where the audience thinks “Oh, everybody in this movie knows something we don’t.”)
- Then we cut away to a rundown house, where Dicky is shadowboxing with some skeezy friends. Finally one of them offers up a crack bong and he takes a hit. Aha!
- Even then, it’s only much later, 45 minutes into the movie, in another crackhouse scene, that we hear someone else ask the documentarians what their movie is about and they forthrightly say that it’s about crack addiction, within earshot of Dicky, who isn’t surprised. Only now do we know everything that everybody else knew going in.
Dicky’s life is so powerfully ironic (the beloved “Pride of Lowell” is a crackhead) that a slow info-drip allows us to discover all of the ironies over several scenes.