Fighter, The: Oscar Card for Christian Bale?

Inspired by an incredible true story, set in Lowell, Massachusetts, David o. Russell’s fifth feature tells a gritty, affectionately humorous, yet stirring story of the unlikely boxing hero, “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), and his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), who had to come apart as opponents before coming together as brothers in a scrappy fight to win a long-shot championship and strengthen the bonds of their family.

Russell did not have to worry about the inspirational aspects of his “Rocky”-like true story. He says: “It’s a great story with a great built-in ending, which you can naturally ride. That enabled me to concentrate on the family, and once I met these people, I just fell in love in them. They’re just absolutely comfortable in who they are and what they are about.”

Russell came on board “The Fighter” after Darren Aronofsky dropped out to pursue his passion ballet project, “Black Swan.” Star and producer Mark Wahlberg then turned to Russell, whom he had met and worked with on two films, “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees.” Ten years in the making, “The Fighter”was shot in just 33 days on the blue-collar streets of Lowell, Ma.

In many ways, “The Fighter” represents an artistic rebirth for Russell. The effective mix of humor and pathos has generated the best reviews he has received for a film since the 1999 “Three Kings.”

The story begins as Dicky, the town’s pride who once went toe-to-toe with Sugar Ray Leonard, has fallen on hard times. Meanwhile, Micky has become the family’s fighter, with his fledgling career is managed by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo). Yet, despite his gutsy left hook, he keeps getting punished in the ring. When Micky’s latest mismatched fight nearly kills him, he is persuaded by his iron-willed new girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams), to split with his family and pursue his own interests, while training without his troubled brother.

Micky gets the shot of a lifetime at a title fight, but it soon becomes clear that it will take his brother and the whole family to get him there. Defying the naysayers, he sets out on a bid for redemption that will bring Dicky, Charlene, Alice and the entire Ward/Eklund brood back together, resulting in one of the sport’s most surprising strings of victories. As a result, Micky becomes a champion, known as a resilient and loyal battler who fought, hardest of all, for his family. 

“The Fighter” is about family, love, relationships and overcoming adversity. The drama of the story is as powerful as the boxing is exciting,” explains Christian Bale. “David O. Russell really had a great view of the script, of this world and the people in it. David got that scrappy spirit of the movie, and we did exactly that.” 

Wahlberg had been passionate about making a film about the up-and-down and then triumphant relationship of boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund for years. It was he who had personally approached the two about doing a movie. 

Long before the film was“green lighted” Wahlberg went into hardcore training. For three years, he brought his longtime athletic trainer with him, and was constantly working out. “That meant getting up at 4in the morning, going to the gym for two hours, taking a shower, then going to do another job, all while hitting the mitts in the trailer in between takes.” 

While Wahlberg seemed destined to play the role of Micky, the search for an actor who could match him as Dicky Eklund was more challenging. Russell and  Wahlberg agreed that the role would require an actor of unusual dexterity, someone able to get to the heart of a tricky character who is appealingly funny and talented yet also a broken hero in search of redemption.

There were multiple layers to Dicky’s personality. As a fighter, he was known for his tenacity, his strategy and his stunning speed. .He was known for his charisma, friendliness and humor. On the streets, he had become caught up in a violent life of addiction, one that ultimately led to a 10-15 year jail sentence as his life spiralled downward. 

Christian Bale, renowned for his ability to play effectively intense characters, such as the shadowy superhero Batman in “The Dark Knight,” or John Conner in “Terminator Salvation,” brought out these qualities to his performance. 

“I’d seen Christian do some pretty amazing things physically and emotionally as an actor,” says Wahlberg. “I thought he would be incredible.”

“Christian was perfect because he is one of those chameleon actors who transform himself,” says Russell. “He spent a lot of time with the real Dicky Eklund and he became him. Christian took one look at the material and he loved it. He really wanted to invest himself in this role, which we knew is what it would take to show Dicky’s full journey.”

Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward were also pleased with the choice.   “When Christian came on board, Dicky was so happy,” recalls Ward. “If you had just met Dicky and you had seen Christian, you’d think it was the same person. He played him to a tee. It was incredible to watch.”

Bale was drawn to Eklund’s inner landscape, hischarm as well demons, and couldn’t wait to meet him. “Dicky’s one hell of a character,” Bale notes. “I was very happy to get to know him. He had such an extraordinary talent, which I don’t think he fully appreciated himself, but he was also drawn to extremes. He had extreme ups and extreme downs. Dicky was so naturally gifted that he was able to go drinking all night and then jump in the ring in the morning, but that catches up to you after awhile, and it was hard for him to fulfill on his potential. He could have been champ. Yet, he always had a big heart.” 

Bale says he was also was riveted by the script’s portrait of Dicky and Micky’s complex but undefeated sibling relationship. “The two brothers were absolute opposites,” he says. “Micky was all about hard work and discipline. They were such total opposites that Micky was a prison guard at the same Billerica Jail that Dicky served time in. Yet they were also as closely bonded as only brothers can be. They really needed each
other. They were on such differentpaths in their lives, but ultimately, they couldn’t do what they each needed to do without the other.” 

Bale began prepping for the role by transforming his physical appearance dropping almost 30 pounds to reveal a sinewy fighter’s physique whittled away by hard living. He, too, began intensive boxing training, working with the real Dicky Eklund to learn his unique moves. A newcomer to the ring, Bale also had to learn to think like a pugilist. 

“In the ring, you have to learn to calm your mind, because you’ve got to stop going into that animalistic fight mode when someone is trying to hit you. You’ve got to calm yourself and get your heart rate down, but once you start training it’s really quite addictive,” Bale admits.  

As Bale began to get more and more into the role on both a physical and emotional level, he spent more and more time with Dicky. “I was initially worried it might be hard to have him on the set, but that isn’t the way it was at all,” says Bale. “I could never stand by quietly & watch an actor play me, but Dicky did, he really came to trust the portrayal I was giving of him.” 

The real Micky Ward says he was awed to see his brother portrayed so completely: “You could really see Christian’s dedication to the character. “He’d watch Dicky and he’d really study him. He didn’t say much. Christian is not a person of words. I think he just does everything in his mind, but he really gets into his role.  I think he plays a better Dicky than Dicky. For me, it was just fun to watch.”

The whole cast was amazed at the ways Bale brought Dicky to life, especially in his rapport with Wahlberg. Says Russell: “Christian really got down Dicky’s movements, his speech patterns and the chemistry he has with Mark is not dissimilar to the way the real Micky and Dicky are in real life.

Reportedly after some takes, the whole crew erupted with applause. Bale portrays a flawed man, who has all this innate talent but really throws it away for the sake of drugs. But later on, in the process of redeeming himself, he realizes that his relationship with his brother is more important than his own personal goals.” 

Russell says that he really wanted to convey how Dicky was always a pivotal figure in the town of Lowell, someone almost everyone knew and either admired or worried about.  

Bale certainly fulfilled his wish: “Christian’s a very quiet guy, but by channelling Dicky, he was able to become an extremely colorful, intense guy who enjoys talking to people everywhere. Dicky is friends with everybody in Lowell, and everywhere. He’s like the town’s mayor. Christian became that guy.” 

Industry buzz in Hollywood predicts that Christian Bale, who had never been nominated before for an Academy Award, would be honoured with the Supporting Actor Oscar this year.