Monday, February 7, 2011

The Fighter: When your ack's against the ropes

"The Fighter," like all great sports movies, is about so much more than sports. It's really about family and the lengths to which we'll go for the love of one. It is about the fight waged within the boxing ring, as well as the fight waged within oneself. At the center of this timeless tale is Mark Wahlberg as Mickey Ward, a junior welterweight from Lowell, Mass. Wahlberg consistently surprises me. He is such a quiet actor, so quiet that sometimes one has to wonder if he is really acting. And maybe he isn't. Maybe his performances in films like "Three Kings", "I Heart Huckabees", "Date Night" and now The Fighter are mostly extensions of himself, but even if that is the case he has this beautifully still presence that makes you listen, wonder, and root for him. He can somehow play both punk and prince, comedy and tragedy, making him all the more intriguing to watch.

No more is this the case than in his latest film when all the press has been about Christian Bale, as Ward's older brother, the drug-addled Dickie Ecklund, in a performance that never stops moving. They're both excellent, but Wahlberg's wounded eyes and exhausted posture ground the film in its intense heart. He is a man being suffocated by his family, their need, their want, their demand. At times I was reminded of Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" who takes on the mantle of his imposing father because no one is else in the family is suited to do so, not because he wants to. And in the same way that Mickey must, in some ways, fight his way into glory because his brother no longer can, Michael takes on his role once an attempt is made on his father's life and revenge must be gotten. In a family, being the strongest or the smartest is usually also the greatest burden.

Mickey has a gaggle of sisters, akin to the Shakesperean furies, a mother who uses him as much as she loves him, and a brother whose destructive tendencies are all the more heartbreaking because these brothers really are the loves of each other's lives. And this is what The Fighter does so well; it illustrates the complicated nature of love and family. Mickey's mother is neither demon nor angel, but she is desperate. In her son, she sees an escape from a middling, cash-strapped life and boy does she want it. For Dickie Ecklund, his brother represents a chance at the good life, filled with all the glory he never attained. But Dickie also wants to see his little brother succeed because, to put it simply, he loves him. No more is this truth more apparent than once the final credits have started rolling and we get a glimpse of the real Mickey and Dickie in all their brotherly love. It's rare that you see an american film deal with so many shifting shades of gray and uneasily answered questions.

Which is why Mickey's story reminded me also of "The Wire" (quite possibly the greatest television show I have ever seen, by the way). The Wire too is constantly exploring themes of family and loyalty and where the individual fits into all this, if they do at all. And if you didn't have your family what would be the point to it all anyway? How far should you go to help your family before you risk losing yourself? How does an individual seek their own happiness without becoming selfish in that quest? Again, these are not easily answered questions, but they are ones worth asking and I love the makers of The Fighter for asking them.
Other boxing films I'd recommend: Ali, Girlfight, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and Million Dollar Baby


  1. that's funny, we just saw this yesterday and were bowled over. sure, take a boxing moving and then get an amazing cast to KNOCK IT OUT OF THE PARK. done.

    after the first minute i had already given the oscar to christian bale. holy shit.

  2. actually i am stalking you guys. when you see a movie, i see a movie, and then, i write about it...

    i know, that cast is incredible! i now like to walk around the house impersonating bale impersonating ecklund. good times :)

  3. Er, what I meant to say was, "When your back's against the ropes," not "ack's"... yup, it's monday.

  4. I thought "ack's against the ropes" was a joke I needed to see the movie to get :) I'm going to ask you to do your bale/ecklund impersonation next time I see you.