January 27, 2011

Ensemble Cast Shines in The Fighter

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In 1995, Micky Ward was a down on his luck former lightweight boxer, who had retired from the sport after losing four consecutive bouts. His support system was limited to his half-brother Dicky Eklund, a fellow former boxer who reached his peak in 1978 when he knocked out the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard, and his mother and manager Alice Ward. As Ward tries to get back in the ring and start making a name for himself again, he is repeatedly held back by the drug-addicted Eklund and their manipulative mother, whom he is unable to shake due to their strong ties of family. In typical sports movie fashion, Ward overcomes his hardships, enters the ring and reassumes his titles as a Fighter.

While The Fighter’s plot may be accused of being tired, recycled and formulaic, the film transcends such allegations with exceptional performances. Nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards were announced this past Tuesday, and The Fighter hit hard, garnering seven nominations across a broad range of categories. Aside from a nomination for Best Picture and another one for the film’s director, David O. Russell, the most notable nods are for the supporting cast. Ostensibly the story of Ward, these nominations reveal a truth about the film — “the fighter” could refer to anyone in it.

Although Mark Wahlberg leads the cast as the titular “fighter,” portraying Ward, he will go award-less. However, Christian Bale, as Eklund, has emerged as the early frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, and critics are split on who from this fantastic cast will take home the Best Supporting Actress statue, Melissa Leo as Alice Ward or Amy Adams as Charlene Fleming, Ward’s strong-willed love interest. It’s a shame there is no award for Best Angry Chorus of Scary Sisters, or The Fighter would be taking that home too.The story is wrought with the constant struggle of underdogs. Ward is set up against opponents well over his weight, Eklund fights and succumbs to his addiction throughout the movie and Fleming is a former college athlete who dropped out of school and now works as a bartender. On paper, these are not the archetypes of heroes, great figures that could entrap the audience’s attention and devotion. However, there is a distinct quality that allows for a connection with each figure in the movie, from the boxer who can’t give up on his family even though he knows they are poisoning him to the mother who, above all, just wants what is best for her sons to the crackhead who loves his family more than he loves himself.

Ward not only carries the movie as its titular character, but also emotionally carries all the characters with him in his rise to the top. In the process, he becomes the pride of the town of Lowell, Mass. where they come from, a title his brother once proudly held. He justifies their imperfections by being perfect — he is a loving and loyal father and son, boyfriend and brother. He elevates the normal people of his small town, notably his family and his trainer (Mickey O’Keefe as himself, a Lowell police officer turned boxing trainer), and gives them something to root for. By the end of the movie, the audience will be rooting for every hero and anti-hero in the cast.

Original Author: Peter Jacobs