Year Released: 2010
Directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams
(R, 114 min.)
Awards: 2011 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Christian Bale; Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Melissa Leo
"But a man does not fight merely to win!" Edmond Rostand - Cyrano de Bergerac
In one sense The Fighter is the story of real life “Irish” Micky Ward’s hard scrabble climb to the 1997 welterweight championship, complete with busted lips, black eyes, and bruised ribs along the way. But the fights in the ring pale in comparison to the internecine knockouts that occur within his outrageously dysfunctional family, not to mention those pitting his feisty redhead against his mother and seven sisters.
And that’s before I even mention big brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), the once celebrated “pride of Lowell” still reliving his 1978 ten round bout with Sugar Ray Leonard, if only now in his coke addled brain. In fact, as the film opens, the focus is on Dicky rather than his younger brother. It seems they are making a film about his comeback to boxing, and the rail thin Dicky is in his glory as the HBO crowd follows him around town.
With the bombast of “What Do You Think of Me now?” turned up at high volume, we become part of the parade Dicky leads through Lowell, MA, a working town in the shadow of Boston just as Micky is in the shadow of his big brother.
Of course, all that bombast is undercut just seven and a half minutes into the film in a crack house scene that succinctly captures Dicky’s tragic fall. While he watches the actual HBO replay of that legendary fight – part of the legend is banishing any rumors that Sugar tripped instead of being knocked down by Dicky – we see the contrast between the old Dicky on screen and the current one now sitting on a filthy sofa, all shrunken cheeks and wasted eyes, fists that flail rather than pound.
But in his mother’s eyes (Melissa Leo), Dicky is still the one, her pride as well as Lowell’s. She dons her perky matched suits and three-inch heels as a kind of armor to protect her from the ugly truth, enveloping herself in the haze of cigarette smoke to further cloud her vision. Aiding her are her seven daughters, all pouffed hair and sour pusses, kind of like a Greek chorus gone bad, egging on the tragic characters instead of cautioning them. With mother as manager and Dicky as trainer, what can go wrong?
Well, when their mismangement leads to a matchup that goes sour, they cajole Micky into the ring anyway, and he walks away – barely – a bloody pulp. While Micky doesn’t have it in him to face down his mother and her adoring harpies, his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams exhilarating in her break from type casting) does.
She even meets them on their own turf, the family living room, sitting calmly on the couch across from Dicky’s mother while his sisters buzz ominously, preparing their stingers for attack. Their vocabulary being limited to “skank” and “slut,” their words lack any real venom, seeing as the beautiful Charlene has a mouth that would put a sailor to shame, as well as an iron will and claws to match.
Things continue on for months in a kind of slow motion brawl, a Southie type slugfest /catfight with everyone but Micky trying to control his career. Then, like the steady fighter that he is, absorbing blow after blow to surprise his opponent with a final lethal left hook, Micky releases a verbal bombshell to the group. Looking at all of them in eye, one by one, his mother, his brother, all his sisters, and yes, even Charlene, her says,
“I’m the one who’s fighting. Not you, not you and not you.”
The man suffocated by women, the little boy in his brother’s shadow, like the stuttering king, has found his voice. And soon his punch will be as powerful.
Behind the scenes, making this film was as daunting a task as the reality on which it is based. Mark Wahlberg, like the real Micky from a family of 9 kids, took years to get the right person interested in his pet project. Darren Araonofsky turned down directing it because it seemed too much like his earlier film, The Wrestler.
Both Matt Damon and Brad Pitt dropped out of contention for the role of Dicky due to prior commitments. Then a lucky meeting with Christian Bale at the school both their children attend helped Wahlberg realize what Bale could bring to the role of Dicky. He remembered how the actor had transformed himself for his roles in The Machinist and Rescue Dawn, and realized he could do the same to play Micky’s coke ravaged older brother. And yes, it is almost scary to see Bale’s transformation here, supposedly losing only 30 pounds, but the alteration of his face makes it almost a death mask. He disappears not just in the flesh, but into the role completely in a transcending and amazing performance I predict will win him an Oscar.
Wahlberg himself worked out for four years to create and maintain a boxer’s physique, managing to cram in secret workouts even when he was putting in twelve hour days on other films.
When the story behind the film is almost as interesting as the film itself, that is something. When the excellence of the cast and the ensemble acting is so finely tuned, that is something else. Another not to miss film loaded with an embarrassment of riches in the final days of 2010.
The moment that changes Micky’s life and his prospects is when he meets Charlene, who happens to work at the local bar. She is equally adept at slinging drinks and fending off unwanted advances. Right away she notices that the shy Micky is not one of the loud mouths who playfully harass her, and she warms to the quite Irishman immediately.
Let’s think up some great bar snacks that Micky might nibble on that fateful night. How do Cheddar and Bacon Potato Skins sound?
Cheddar and Bacon Potato Skins
4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed
7 oz bacon, rind removed, cut into sticks
2 shallots, finely chopped
scant 1/2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp butter
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Prick the potato skins all over with a fork. Bake in the oven for about 45–50 minutes, until tender. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C).
Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a frying pan over medium-high heat about 4 minutes until golden. Add the shallots and cook until they soften, about 1 minute more.
Slice off the top third of each potato, horizontally. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh into a large bowl. Reserve the hollowed-out skins and place in a lightly oiled baking dish.
Mash the potato with a potato masher. Add the milk and butter,and beat until smooth. Stir in the Cheddar and bacon mixture along with the parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the mixture back into the potato skins and bake for 20–25 minutes, or until the filling is heated through and golden on top. Serve hot with extra chopped parsley sprinkled on top, if desired.
Recipe Source: ivillage.com