January 24, 2011
Capturing and conveying more than just the dot points of “a true story” is a challenging if not problematic task. And yet so much Hollywood fare is motivated by the opportunity to cash in on these “true” and, by inference, relatable and relevant stories. The latest in line is David O Russell’s The Fighter (2010).
Half-brothers Dickie Ecklund (Christian Bale) and Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) are both fighters from a poor neighbourhood in Lowell, Massachusetts. Dickie, now a washed up crack addict, is known locally as “The Pride of Lowell”, owing to his past success where he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard (July 18, 1978) in a Welterweight championship (Welterweight being a category that sits between Lightweight and Middleweight). Boasting an unlikely “comeback” Dickie trains his younger brother Micky who shows more promise and discipline – and let’s not forget that all important quality known as “heart” – than his older brother. His manager is also a family member, mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) and the film is sure to emphasise the great importance of “family” from the outset. Things that have always been a certain way begin to change when Dickie finds himself incarcerated and Micky meets no-bullshit love interest Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams).
Whilst the story is centred around Micky’s rise to fame as a fighter it is just as much – if not more – Dickie’s story, and unsurprisingly Bale manages to outshine Wahlberg in just about every scene. But what is really at stake here is the believability of the characters as based on real life people and whether or not the often troubling interaction of their family dynamics is indeed authentic. To this end there is a lot “documentary style” footage and great effort goes into contrasting the aesthetic quality of both this and the “televised footage” with the slickly shot main drama in the film. As a result the documentary and televised sections add credence to the central drama, positing the stylistic differences as fragments of a whole; the “story” of these individuals and their lives.
Of course, even with such successful visual direction there are unanswered questions and, largely, these spring from the film’s scripting. Light-hearted and even comedic at times, the dialogue is often a little too witty to be entirely believable and by that I mean that the exchanges between characters are often too close to sitcom-like sparring which makes their interaction with one another subsequently less plausible. And of course, comedy can’t help but come at the cost of communicable emotion and felt empathy which arguably posits these people closer to caricatures than characters. As such, it is at times difficult to buy the story as a complete package; the visual style coming across as successful but notably deliberate even if it doesn’t feel forced.
Adding footage of the “real life” brothers during the end credit sequence gives further weight to the “truth” of the story and yet one can’t help but wonder what the story would look like if it were these two who featured onscreen for the two-hours just passed. Perhaps a little ironically even, the final thought goes to brother Dickie whose performed character in The Fighter experiences the disappointment of seeing himself (mis)represented onscreen. Could it be that Russell has knowingly indicated the distance between self-perception and what makes a good cinematic story? Either way, The Fighter is an enjoyable enough film that occasionally errs a little too heavily on the side of feel-goodery. For better or worse, The Fighter, with all its might, is sure to revise public perception of “The Pride of Lowell”.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.