"I started a jokeWhich started the whole world crying"
But I didn't seeThat the joke was on meOh no
I started to cryWhich started a whole world laughingOh, if I'd only seenThat the joke was on me"
I Started a Joke (1968) by the Bee Gees
Previously, I named Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan as my favourite film of 2010, but that was before I've seen David O. Russell's The Fighter, a biopic about professional boxer Micky Ward which ironically, had Aronofsky attached to direct in the beginning. I have zero interest in sports, much less the sport of boxing, and I lived through life with a blind spot on all things athletic. In fact, I had never even heard of Micky Ward until he was introduced to me in the physical form of Mark Wahlberg in this film. I had no idea how famous he was or whether he was any good as a pugilist. Hell, I had no idea if his story is a tale of triumph or defeat.
In short, I was uniquely positioned to see everything unfold before me untainted by preconceptions or expectations - a mindset which I seldom experience these days in cinemas because I have a habit of obsessively following most films' production from pitch to picture. Another boxing film? Not very high on my to-do list, I'm afraid.
|That's Christian Bale on the left, y'know, in case you don't recognise the guy.|
As it turned out, The Fighter is not really about boxing. It is a drama about a family so dysfunctional that some of its members actually scared me. How true is it to the real story of Micky Ward? I don't know but I felt that that's immaterial. Christian Bale played Dicky Eklund, Micky's washed out, self-deluded to grandiosity crackhead of a brother and by now, you should know that Bale went on to win this year's Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He deserved every inch of that little gold statuette and frankly, I believe he gave one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen in my entire life. I did not have a favourite actor. I do now.
This is really more of a film about Dicky than it is about Micky - or maybe it just seemed that way because Bale stole every scene he was in. He was charismatic and wretched, goofy yet reprehensible; a broken man fighting the shackles of cocaine to do right by his little brother who loves and worships him more than anyone else. After all, Dicky did once upon a time knocked Sugar Ray Leonard down. Allegedly.
I think it's better shown than told, so just look at the frightening transformation he underwent. Yes, this is the Batman himself,
|I knew Bale is an amazing method actor, but it's been so long since the last time he was really good in anything.|
Melissa Leo who played Alice, the chain-smoking matriarchal mother and manager of Micky and Dicky, supposedly disappeared into her character as well, but never having seen any of her films, I simply couldn't tell. But I was informed that the Best Supporting Actress Oscar she won was rightfully awarded. Amy Adams (whom I adore) was also nominated for the same award for her performance as Micky's sexy barmaid girlfriend but at least in her case, I could tell she was great. Mark Wahlberg too was convincing in his rather understated protagonist role as Micky who was constantly overshadowed by his older brother, but he was - if you would pardon the boxing vernacular - completely out of his weight class. Don't get me wrong, it's not that he acted poorly at all (he too gave one of his best in a long while), but, but... Christian Freaking Bale!
Boxing is not terribly exciting to watch, moreso for me, but The Fighter proves that so long as you care about the characters involved, you'd wince when they are punched, gasp when they are floored and cheer when they get up to give all they got. Outside or inside the ring. Watching this film was a thoroughly emotional journey for me. I lost count of just how many times I had bona fide tears streaming down my face in a lot of Dicky's scenes. It was lucky that no one saw me - there were only two other blokes in my afternoon 2:50 showing and I'm willing to bet money that they were weeping like housewives too. What happened on screen were all genuine and I shan't believe anyone who says otherwise. Bale made it all real without making it maudlin. It's moments like those he brought to this film that made me fell in love with cinema in the first place. I felt how forcefully he struggled against the worst side of himself. I felt his deepest shames, his anger and most of all, his overwhelming love of and bursting pride in his little kid brother. Oh damn, I felt teary just thinking about those parts. Someone please pass me a tampon, pronto.
On the technical side, the film was partially set within a framing device of a documentary HBO was supposedly making about Dicky's comeback into the world of boxing, a comeback which the whole town of Lowell kept hearing about from he and his mom. Interviews with the brothers bookended the film. The boxing scenes were shot to look like old, grainy, yellowed television footage of contemporary boxing matches using actual equipments from the time - an interesting creative choice. O. Russell even reused the original commentary from Micky Ward's matches and had O'Keefe, a real figure in his life to appear as himself. Then, within the credits, we were treated to a short clip of the real Dicky and Micky, and it's unsettling to realise how closely Bale nailed his speech pattern and mannerisms.
The Fighter is one of those rare films I love which I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone at all. It's not everyday a smartly-scripted, well-directed and phenomenally acted film can possess such a mainstream appeal. What would you do if your family's holding you back from ever achieving your full potential? Where does family love ends and emotional blackmail begins? And what would having a troupe of blonde troglodytes with 80's hair as your sisters do to your psyche growing up?
This is probably going to be one of my all-time favourite films. For the record, I still think Black Swan should have bagged Best Picture, but I am certainly far fonder of The Fighter.
P.S. I'm definitely going to see it again. Anyone up for it?
Jumped aboard the Welsh wagon,
k0k s3n w4i