Know Your Nominees: “The Fighter”

1 02 2011

The Oscars are a great cultural conversation for all to participate in, but it’s all too easy to only have surface knowledge of the nominees.  It’s all too easy to know “Black Swan” as the ballet movie, “The Fighter” as the boxing movie, and “The Social Network” as the Facebook movie.  But don’t you want to know more and stun your friends with your knowledge of the movies in the weeks leading up to the awards and ultimately during the broadcast itself?

That’s what my KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series hopes to do.  Every three days, I’ll feature ten interesting facts about the ten Best Picture nominees of 2010 that would be fascinating to pepper into any conversation.  My hope is that you will come away with an enhanced appreciation of the movies but also enjoy learning strange and interesting things about them.

So, as we proceed in alphabetical order, the second movie on our countdown of the Academy’s best of 2010 is “The Fighter.”

You’ve probably heard “The Fighter” described as Mark Wahlberg’s passion project, and his fight for four years to get the movie made has finally hit the silver screen thanks to the personal identification the star has with the story.  Both Wahlberg and his character Ward grew up in large Massachusetts families with nine siblings.  Both had tenacious mothers who favored their older brothers – which, in Wahlberg’s case, happens to be the New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg.  As Micky became the “Pride of Lowell,” Mark Wahlberg idolized the prize fighter and is now starring and producing the ultimate tribute to him.  In an interview, Wahlberg said that the only difference between the two of them is that “Micky’s a fighter and I’m an entertainer.”

A nice little under-the-radar Oscar story of 2010 has been David O. Russell’s comeback directing “The Fighter,” which is in itself a comeback story.  But it wasn’t always going to be that way.  Remember seeing in the opening credits that Darren Aronofsky was an executive producer of the movie?  Originally, he was going to direct the movie but eventually abandoned the movie to make “Black Swan.”  That makes him connected to two Best Picture nominees this year.  Also worth noting about the director’s chair – Martin Scorsese turned the project down, claiming that “Raging Bull” was enough boxing for him.

Aronofsky’s exit wasn’t the only major change that “The Fighter” underwent before production began.  Matt Damon and Brad Pitt were both attached to play Dickie Eklund, the former fighter and older brother to Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward that is played in the movie by Christian Bale.

And what of the documentary HBO made about Eklund?  Called “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell,” the movie is real, not just a plot device in “The Fighter.”  Thanks to the beauty of the Internet, you don’t have to wait for it to hit the circuit on cable – you can watch it FOR FREE on SnagFilms.  (In case you didn’t catch it, I embedded the link in that bolded statement.)

Mark Wahlberg did plenty of physical preparation for “The Fighter.”  He claims that his last few movies have been carefully selected as training and preparing to play Micky Ward.  He built a boxing ring in his own home and spent four years training with boxing coaches, even bringing them with him to his other movie sets.  Wahlberg did all the fighting himself, refusing to use a fighting double.  By the time all was said and done for Wahlberg’s training, he spent more preparing than he made.

Wahlberg wasn’t the only cast member altering their body for “The Fighter.”  Christian Bale noticeably dropped 30 pounds to play Dickie, giving him the look of both an ex-fighter and a crack addict.  But more under the radar, Amy Adams also did her part to inhabit the character of Charlene.  To make her character look like she’d been in one too many bars, Adams gained about 10 pounds to get a bit of a beer gut.

How about that wild family in “The Fighter?”  Director David O. Russell said these wildly over-the-top characters were actually toned down from their real-life counterparts.  I find this hard to believe in the case of the seven sisters, which are played by a particularly interesting group of actresses.  One sister is played by Conan O’Brien’s sister, Kate.  Another actress, Jill Quigg, was recently arrested in Boston for robbery and is now in jail.  (How’s that for some authenticity?)

Did the cinematography of the fights look a little bit different than the rest of the movie?  That’s because David O. Russell brought in camera crews from HBO to shoot them in the same style they were televised in for the sake of authenticity.  I found it to be an interesting touch that definitely set the fights apart from the rest of the movie.  They also feel real because the real Micky Ward was heavily involved in their production.

Just how real is “The Fighter,” though?  According to the real life Micky Ward in an interview with Sports Illustrated, he said, “It was pretty much right on. Christian Bale did an excellent job.”  The movie’s historical accuracy was greatly aided by Wahlberg’s close relationship with the real Ward and Ecklund, who often stayed in his guest house for weeks at a time.  The veracity was also undoubtedly aided by Mickey O’Keefe, Ward’s real-life trainer who played himself in the movie.

And the big question: since Dickie Ecklund is still alive, how did he react to the movie?  Apparently he saw it for the first time without an audience and was not a fan.  Understandable for anyone to react unfavorably to a shrinking down of their life’s struggles and mistakes into two hours.  But then Wahlberg and Bale convinced him to see it a few more times with a crowd, and once he saw their reaction, Ecklund was proud of how his overcoming of crack addiction moved the audience.  How’s that for a feel-good story?

Check back on February 4 as the KNOW YOUR NOMINEES series continues with “Inception.”

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