The Fighter
Good 'slice of life makes good' film ___ 8/10

The FighterDirected by David O. Russell
Screenplay Scott Silver
Story Paul Tamasy

Mark Wahlberg ... Micky Ward
Christian Bale ... Dicky Eklund
Amy Adams ... Charlene Fleming
Melissa Leo ... Alice Ward
Mickey O'Keefe ... Himself

Dicky Eklund: Are you like me? Was just good enough to fight Sugar Ray? Never had to win, did I? You gotta do more in there. You gotta win a title. For you, for me, for Lowell. This is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it. You don't have to. All right? You fuckin' get out there, and use all the shit that you've been through, all the shit we've gone through over the fuckin' years, and you put it in that ring right now. This is yours. This is fuckin' yours.

A lot of fine performances—Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both won Oscars, and Amy Adams was nominated, all deservedly—but Bale is the one who hits it out of the park. This is his movie, plain and simple. The story is a reality based 'raise yourself from the bootstraps' project that it seems Mark Wahlberg (one of the producers) loves to be part of. In reality, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) was a fighter from Lowell, Massachusetts, from 1975 to 1985:

Eklund's most notable fight was on July 18, 1978, against Sugar Ray Leonard at the Hynes Memorial Auditorium in Boston, Massachusetts. He went the distance against Leonard, who eventually won the fight by unanimous decision. During the fight, Eklund was knocked down twice. In the ninth round, the fighters got wrapped up and Leonard fell down, but the referee indicated this was a trip and not a knockdown.

As the movie begins (early 1990s), Dicky's career is over and his half-brother Micky Ward's (Mark Wahlberg) career has begun, but has run into a snag. Micky is having a hard time, partly because he lacks the boxing skills of his older brother and partly because he doesn't have the highest self-confidence. [In an early scene, Micky is shown hesitating to go up to the bar where this hot barmaid Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) is working, or even making simple conversation. But he does, eventually, ask her out, which sets a whole chain of relationship issues in motion.]

The biggest problem Micky faces is Dicky. Interestingly—and I don't know if this aspect of the film is part of the reality—a reporter and cameraman are following Dicky around to do a 'Life of the Streets' story about crack cocaine addiction. (And here I just thought Christian Bale was having a serious bout with anorexia.) Yup, Dicky, because he once supposedly knocked down the great Sugar Ray, is a local hero among the dregs of Lowell. [I know I shouldn't refer to them as dregs, but it sounds better than white trash. A valuable lesson to draw from The Fighter is that no race or ethnic group has a monopoly on living low. What do all these sisters of Dicky and Micky do all day? Or their mother (Melissa Leo), for that matter? What government agency(s) is responsible for sending them checks?

But those are only first impressions, and I'm sorry to have these emotional prejudices. Another early scene is at the training gym, where Dicky, because of his debilitating crack habit is constantly late. But their sisters—all seven or so of them look like a bad-hair-day hairdressers' convention, without the salon—just sit around chattering and live for watching their men do these vitally important activities for humankind like, you know, prize fighting. It beats ultimate fighting, but the whole culture is majorly depressing... at least to me. No signs exist for intellectual or productive ambition, say in business or computers or anything; it's an Irish Catholic 'ghetto' where the only things you take pride in are fighting, drinking, fucking, and family. Or in the case of Dicky, getting high and talking smack about the good old days.

Until Micky and Charlene hook up, this story has shades of Straw Dogs, that classic coming of manhood movie (starring Dustin Hoffman) dealing with the pure hatred of relentless, mindless, primal, familial violence.

Micky and Charlene redeem the movie, redeem the whole messed up life in the mean streets of Lowell. For one thing, Charlene has given it a shot at college, almost achieving her degree, even having some athleticism in her veins—a champion high jumper. But she retires from the field of derring-do back into her comfort zone in Lowell. She has a drinking problem, but not so bad that she can't respond to a man of values: which in the context Micky certainly is. As I mention above, Micky, who has genuine talent, won't strike out on his own because he still idolizes his brother and lacks the confidence. Charlene not only sees the talent, she speaks up for him and sees the obvious: his loser family is completely holding him back from any success in the fight game.

Charlene becomes a stronger character with Micky, even talking back to his mother and the wretched Sisty Uglers. He becomes stronger with Charlene, too. He stands up for himself and for her. Conflict: Mother and Dicky and the Sisty Uglers are deathly afraid they'll lose Micky the Gravy Train.

We don't really know how much of the movie is fictional at this point. The writers and director are smart, they don't go for the obvious black and white resolution of things. For one thing, Dicky is an excellent teacher, he knows the principles and sees immediately what will work for Micky in the ring. Again, you can credit Christian Bale for delivering the goods when he expresses fundamental truths of prize fighting. This part reminds me of Million Dollar Baby, getting into the science of the sport, what's good and what's not. And I fully appreciate the competence of boxing as opposed to brawling. But Dicky has problems. Will he overcome them? Will Micky and Charlene come back to him—and to Mother and the Sisty Uglers—if he does? Check it out.

For some it's a tough movie to watch, I'd say as honest a picture of what life on the mean streets is really like without overdoing it. For example, even though Dicky and his circle of acquaintances—which includes his Cambodian 'girl friend' and a whole assortment of layabouts—spend plenty of time getting messed up, there's still a neighborhood of sorts around them. Some sort of family life. In fact, the girlfriend has a large extended Cambodian family and there's a comical scene where Dicky is trying to convince ten of them to each pay him $200 in some cockamamie network marketing scheme, in which I don't think a product even exists. Lowell, Mass., isn't East LA or the Detroit Wasteland. There's a social fabric... and a lot of people doing the best they can to survive the wholesale economic deprivations of the ASLs that affect us all.[1]

The fight scenes are terrific. Wahlberg is great. He lets himself play the straight man beside the true morality play affecting Bale's character. The question becomes who is The Fighter? Micky or Dicky? Literally, both of them are. But as the story moves, who overcomes the greater odds? Or doesn't. I shouldn't indicate whether success materializes. But I will give away that at the end of the film the two real persons, Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward, appear on camera, as if in a home movie. Nice touch. Inspirational, entertaining, intelligent flick.

[1] No rant just fact: ASL = Alien Space Lizards, ref. my analysis in The Barrier Cloud. Basically, a metaphor for the small minority of psychologically diseased humans who actually like to aggress on others, and do so systematically on the largest of scales by stealth and cartelization.

2011 April 06
Copyright © Brian Wright | The Coffee Coaster™
Mark Wahlberg | The Fighter | Christian Bale | Amy Adams | Lowell, MA

MX Fast Money Success System :: Banner 06

Brian Wright Professional Services


Rock Creek Free Press

New Hampshire Free Press

NH Common Sense




MX Fast Money Success System :: Banner 06

Hemp Industries

Publish Fee: $25 Donation
Please donate $1 for download of PDF

Main | Columns | Movie Reviews | Book Reviews | Articles | Guest