Monday, March 28, 2011

The Fighter - Not without my family

Hollywood is choc-a-bloc with biopics, a majority focussed on the trials and final triumphs of sportspeople. So, going into 'The Fighter', I wondered what novelty would this true tale of a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts offer? A movie that has garnered several oscar nominations and has already secured two major wins in the supporting male and female actor category, though we have seen how the Oscars tend to heap awards on this genre. Filmed by David O. Russel, this is the story of two brothers who each had their share of the spotlight in the world of boxing, Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). They share a mother and are part of a horde of siblings, the others being a bunch of spinsters who seem like harpies hanging around the house talking in chorus. This is as dysfunctional a family as you can get. The mother Alice, played by Melissa Leo in an oscar winning turn, is the ruler of the roost, the mother who knows best and dare anyone tell her otherwise.

The story takes flight with Dicky who had his fifteen minutes of fame as the boxer who once downed Sugar Ray Leonard and has since fallen into substance abuse. His days are either spent in the local crack house or training his younger brother Mickey who has yet to see the big league. At 31, he doesn't have much time left. HBO is filming a documentary on Dicky's time of fame, though it turns out to be his hall of shame. Alice is the domineering mother who doubles as Mickey's manager. Between a crackhead like Dicky for a coach, who spends time wasting away when he should be training Mickey in the ring and Alice, who eggs him into matches for money which either get him nowhere or set him up for failure, Mickey has a shot in hell of ever making it big. His father knows that, the local sheriff who helps with the coaching process knows it, but Mickey is blinded by his faith in his brother. Dicky has been his hero from childhood.

The winds change when Mickey is smitten by college dropout bartender, Charlene (played out of character by adorable Amy Adams). Tough as nails with a don't mess with me attitude, Charlene sees through the facade of his well wishers. She doesn't take long in voicing her opinions in public. The family is torn apart with a helpless Mickey caught in the cross fire. The mother, Dicky and the sisters vs Mickey's dad and his love. This is where the movie actually scores and manages to surprise us. It talks more of the dynamics of a family unit, even one as dysfunctional as this.

What sets this movie apart from a traditional sports movie is that this movie is really about family. What do you do when you know that the brother you have grown up idolizing is actually harming you even though he means well. The mother who, though essentially good, is mishandling your career, your dreams. Alice's loyalty lies with Dicky and Mickey is not blind to it. The family is on his side and yet they are not. Who do you choose, the girlfriend you met just a while back, who actually can voice the thoughts running in your head or your own blood?

The performances are top notch and worthy of the acting awards they have garnered.  Bale must have seen immediately that this was the role of a lifetime and went headlong into it. He dropped the pounds and physically slipped into the character of the good natured drug addict. But where he scores for me is in how much of the real Dicky Eklund he has captured. Watching the DVD extra of the making of the movie, I saw the real Dicky and was mesmerized as to how much Bale's performance has managed to embody him. Melissa Leo's Alice is pat down as the tough talking, hard as nails, cigarette smoking, high heels miniskirted woman who has no qualms making the wrong decisions, as long as she is the one making them. We have seen the kind. Its such a stark contrast from her brilliant act in 'Frozen River' where I had first noticed her. She missed the award for that one. This made up for the loss.

And then we have the sweet Amy Adams who time and again has played the sunny faced golden hearted woman and who personally is one of my favorites actors since the time of 'Junebug'. She goes completely against character in this act of hers and emerges trump. Mark Wahlberg's central performance of Mickey is the steady one that holds all the other supporting acts in place. As the guy who boxes and is being boxed around, he is believable.

The movie works on the strength of its fine performances. You can take each of these characters home. We all know the outcome of the tale. That is why I have never been a fan of this genre. Nobody films a failure's life. We always know the result of that final match. But this was never a movie about a boxer and his time in the ring, though we see all that. Its actually about your family, believing in that fundamental structure, knowing when to grow up and yet never letting it go. And when Mickey wins, the family wins. Here is where the movie had me.

Available on DVD
Originally released in 2010

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