“What’s that blue shit on your arm?” The Fighter (2010)
Covering the early career of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his brother Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale), David O. Russell’s The Fighter is a damn fine boxing movie, with punch-perfect, completely realistic fight choreography. By the end, you could be forgiven if you failed to remember you were watching a film, and not an actual title fight. Wahlberg was confident in his ring scenes, and handled the turmoil brought on by his family with a quiet calm.
It’s almost a shame he won’t be the one I remember the most where The Fighter is concerned, but this film is dominated by the presence of Bale.
While we can all laugh at the on set freak outs, the angry responses, the strange behaviour in interviews etc, there is no denying that Christian Bale can give a damn fine performance. As crack-addicted ex-boxer Dicky Eklund, his mad-eyed, withering junkie is right on the mark. The ticks and the movements, the gait and the glare – it’s all present and correct.
Cocksure and living in the past, Dicky’s entire life hangs on one moment of past glory. Living in a dreamworld of comebacks, he’s a sad, deluded picture of a man holding onto his past. A drug-addled mess on a slippery slope of pyramid schemes and robbery.
When the realisation of what he has actually become hits home, one close-up of Bale’s face displays a whole range of emotions – telling you more about the real Dicky hidden inside that bony shell than any of the swaggering storytelling ever could. The state of his life is laid bare for the whole country to see, shaming him into facing facts and gaining control of the now. He has a son to take care of, and a brother who has lived a life in his shadow to look out for. Here is where the chance of redemption lies. There will be no comeback for Dicky, it’s time to put his past where it belongs and play a part in the future of someone else. Time for him to step aside and let little brother Micky finally shine in the limelight.
The Fighter is so much more than a tale of redemption, though. It’s a family driven story, one that incorporates all the complicated relationships, connections, hidden hurts and sense of loyalty that come with being part of a close-knit unit. Not only the friendship, and the community – but the interference, the meddling, the spirit of ‘knowing what’s best for you’ and the difficulty of saying no.
It’s also about knowing when to let go. Letting go of outdated ideas, letting go of the past, brushing off old habits and patterns of behaviour. Finally saying enough is enough and understanding that sometimes those who love you don’t always know what is the right path for you to take. Family members can stress how much they care, but sometimes they are unable to take on board how much of an effect some of their actions can have, and the pain they can cause.
No one is perfect. The trick is in remembering this, moving on, and dealing with it the best you can. Even if your family is a bunch of mad bastards.
The Fighter is not sentimental, it’s not mawkish – it’s played out raw, and real, and true.
And that end scene? With only Bale, Wahlberg and a video camera? Fucking great.