The Fighter Beat Sheet
Today’s guest blogger, Anne Lower, is a true friend of STC! Anne was mentored by Blake, worked with us for a wonderfully collaborative period, and is a brilliant and articulate member of the writing community. Check out Anne’s blog, Princess Scribe. And a basketful of meows to her for this brilliant breakdown:
Year of Release: 2010
Written by: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson; Story by Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington
Directed by: David O. Russell
Genre: Buddy Love (Family Love)
Not your usual Buddy Love story, The Fighter weaves a complex tale of brotherly love — and war. Set in the gritty and violent world of competitive boxing, the script is laden with the tonal expressions of entrapment and imprisonment — of family, of addiction, of self-loathing and actual incarceration. Relentless in its examination of man’s (and woman’s) dual natures, The Fighter delivers a hard-packed one-two punch. It’s an emotional knockout.
Opening Image: Lowell Massachusetts, 1992. A tough, hard-edged blue-collar town.
A sequence alternating between old home videos and present day interviews reveals two brothers: older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and younger half-brother Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). The videos show the brothers as children as they spar in the yard, under the constant supervision of the family matriarch, Alice (Melissa Leo).
Theme Stated: During the interview, Dicky points to his brother and says, “I taught him everything he knows.” Brother depends upon brother, our heroes are incomplete. The theme of The Fighter is that of family — how family is defined, the familial ties that bind, those that unravel, and the ties that are torn apart. Severed, possibly irrevocably.
Set-Up: Dicky Eklund is a man trapped in the past. He continuously relives his 1978 fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, which he lost in a decision but went the distance. Deemed “the pride of Lowell,” Dicky parades the streets of his home town, telling each and every person he encounters about his upcoming comeback, which is being filmed for HBO. Dicky believes this documentary to be the key to reinvigorating his career. The years have not been kind to him. He is gaunt; his behaviors excessive. He seems a shadow of his former self.
Micky Ward has his own troubles to face. At 30, his career as a welterweight boxer has not realized its full-blown promise. Managed by his mother, Alice, and trained by Dicky, Micky is at best a stepping-stone boxer — a fighter that others defeat on their way up.
At the gym, Micky waits on Dicky to help him train for an very important fight. Micky admits to the HBO crew that Dicky is often late, but that the wait is worth it. “Nobody pushes me harder,” Micky says. He suggests that the crew interview his sisters. Lined up against the wall, they are foul-mouthed, loud, and salty broads.
A cop and trainer, O’Keefe arrives. Micky tells him that Dicky is missing. “You know where he is,” says O’Keefe.
O’Keefe dons gloves and begins Micky’s workout — much to the dismay of Alice. She’s arrived, hair primped, makeup carefully applied, to show the film crew scrapbooks of Dicky’s short-lived career. It is obvious that Dicky is her favorite child. To her, he can do no wrong.
Across town, Dicky entertains his friends by re-enacting his infamous Leonard fight, where Sugar Ray hit the canvas. He pauses to smoke from a homemade bong. Now we know the reason for his emaciated appearance and odd behaviors. Dicky is addicted to crack.
Realizing that he is late to the training session, Dicky runs through the streets of Lowell and arrives at the gym. Now, Micky has two trainers — and they despise each other.
After a ruthless training session during which Micky has knocked his opponent down, the Ward family travels en masse to a local pub. Bartending is Charlene (Amy Adams), a former athlete working to pull herself out of the gutter of Lowell. Micky’s father, George, encourages Micky to talk to her. Micky is George’s favorite. Micky speaks to Charlene and discovers her to be, like his mother, a force to be reckoned with. Their attraction for one another is apparent; Micky asks for Charlene’s number and tells her that he will call her when he returns from his fight. She writes her name and number on a cocktail napkin and surrounds it with a heart.
Before leaving for the fight, Micky visits his daughter, against the protests of the child’s mother. He tells her that he will return a winner, will move into a larger apartment, and will be able to spend more time with her.
The day of the Atlantic City match. Once again, Dicky is late. The crew — Alice, George, O’Keefe, and Micky go to Dicky’s house to get him. Dicky’s otherwise engaged — he’s having sex with a girl, while his friends smoke crack. He tries to run away by jumping out a second story window, but George and Micky catch up with him, and they travel to Atlantic City.
Catalyst: On the day of the match, Micky is told that Mambie, Micky’s opponent, has the flu and cannot compete. However, Alice, not wanting to forgo the purse money, has arranged for another fight for Micky. Both she and Dicky believe this match to be an easy win. They convince Micky to agree to the match.
The boxing ring. The competitor disrobes. He’s 18 pounds heavier than Micky — and pure muscle. In the ring, Micky is pummeled — his cheek smashed, eyebrows split open. He goes down in defeat as his family watches in horror.
Debate: At a post-match party, Micky is approached by a Las Vegas sports handler. He tells Micky that he feels that he is not getting the training that he needs — and deserves — and offers to take him to Las Vegas, and pay him to train.
Micky knows that he should take this offer, but the decision to abandon the family fold and fulfill his potential is too much for him.
At home, Micky tells Alice that he doesn’t want to fight anymore. He leaves the family celebration, and returns to his home a fallen hero. He finds Charlene’s number, but he does not call her. This last loss has humiliated him completely.
Break into Two: Angered by Micky’s seeming rejection, Charlene tracks him down. She pounds on his door until he answers. Micky confesses his feelings of shame; Charlene dresses his wounds. He takes Charlene to dinner and a movie — without telling Alice.
B Story: Micky confides in Charlene; he tells her about the Vegas offer. She encourages him to take it; his career is going nowhere as it is currently managed. Micky and Charlene make love.
Fun and Games: Three weeks later. Alice has arranged a new match for Micky, but he is nowhere to be found. In a profanity-ridden exchange, Alice’s daughters reveal that Micky is with “that (expletive) girl from the bar. That (expletive) girl Charlene… I hear she likes three ways — with other girls… like those MTV girls.”
Alice tells her daughters to go get Micky. She will find Dicky, and bring him home.
Once again, Dicky tries to escape when his mother arrives. Alice is hurt and angry… but Dicky soothes her with a song.
Charlene and Micky wait at the Ward home, surrounded by Micky’s sisters. Their hatred for Charlene is apparent — they consider her an intruder. Charlene’s not “blood”; she’s an outsider.
Alice and Dicky arrive. Alice lays out the plan for the next match… but Micky and Charlene question the wisdom of the match, Alice’s management, and Dicky’s inability to be reliable. After Charlene suggests that Micky should take up the Vegas offer, the Ward women begin a verbal assault upon her. Micky defends Charlene; the tightly-woven fabric of this family has begun to unravel.
Dicky makes Micky a deal — he’ll get money for Micky’s training, if Micky stays — and trains with him — in Lowell.
Charlene meets Micky’s daughter; the three of them form a casual family unit.
Night. The Ward clan goes out to dinner; Micky brings Charlene. In a darkened alley, Dicky pimps out his girlfriend. She performs oral sex on a business man; Dicky and an accomplice arrive and impersonate police. They pull the man out of the car and rob him… only to have a squad car arrive on the scene. A chase begins through the streets of Lowell.
Midpoint: A man bursts into the restaurant where the Wards are. He tells them that there is a fight outside; police are beating Dicky. The family rushes outside — but George, O’Keefe, and Charlene urge Micky to remain inside. Micky ignores them and rushes to defend his brother… and is beaten by angry cops. His right hand is pummeled with a nightstick. Micky and Dicky are arrested. (beginning of the A & B intersection)
Bad Guys Close In: A courtroom. Micky is released on his own recognizance — but this is Dicky’s 27th arrest.
After the court, Micky and Dicky argue. Micky tells his brother that he is “done with” him. Micky is transferred to prison.
Micky goes to Charlene’s house, but she refuses to answer the door. She is angry that he continues to allow his family to sabotage his career. She tells him that he does not need Dicky to succeed… and sends him on his way. (the intersection of the A & B story is fully realized)
In prison, Dicky experiences the hell of withdrawal.
At home, Micky faces his own withdrawal from the life of a prized fighter. Townspeople shun him. After all, he has abandoned Dicky, the town pride.
The HBO documentary airs. The inmates at the prison are assembled to watch what is expected to be a celebration of Dicky’s life as a boxer. The film begins…
A shot of Dicky and a friend in a car. A title card reads:
CRACK IN AMERICA
As Dicky and his friend talk about their usage.
Micky watches in his apartment; the Ward clan watches from their home. Alice is devastated; she sends Dicky’s son upstairs.
Onscreen, Dicky scores more crack. The inmates laugh.
The video moves to “on the street” segments, interviewing members of Dicky’s extended family. They reveal that they believe that Dicky did not knock Sugar Ray Leonard down; instead, Leonard slipped.
Micky calls Laurie, his daughter’s mother. He asks her to make certain that their daughter is not watching. Laurie tells him that she wants their daughter to see it — so she can see what failures her father and her uncle are.
The video continues. Dicky is forced to face the toll of his addiction — on self, on family, on career. When he sees his son watching him in court, he can bear it no longer. Against the protests of the inmates, he turns the television off:
That’s my son. He’s crying, he needs me
and I’m f**king stuck in here?
Alice calls Micky, anguished. Her denial is apparent; she accuses HBO of staging scenes, of setting Dicky up.
As they speak, Charlene knocks on Micky’s door. Micky hangs up on his mother. Wordlessly, Charlene offers Micky comfort.
Dicky wanders the corridors of the prison — alone.
In a series of alternating shots, Micky begins to train in earnest at the gym; Dicky works out in his prison cell. No longer trapped by addiction, he turns his energies into boxing.
The damage to Micky’s hand has healed. Sal Lamato, a fight coordinator, offers Micky a local fight, to give him his confidence back. George, Charlene, and O’Keefe make Micky a proposal: O’Keefe will train Micky — on one condition:
No crazy time nonsense.
That’s what its got to be.
No Dicky, no Alice.
Mickie agrees. Another tie is broken.
At home, Alice rages at George. She flings dishes at him; she beats him with a pan. The daughters blame Charlene’s influence upon Mickie.
In a display of matriarchal violence, the Ward women swarm en masse to Charlene’s apartment. Micky and Charlene step outside; a fistfight breaks out between the women. Mickie drags Charlene inside and orders his family away.
New Hampshire. Micky’s fight. He travels with his new family — Charlene, Sal, George, and O’Keefe.
Micky pummels his opponent and scores a solid win.
To the score of Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle,” Micky rolls through fight after fight — victorious…
…while Dicky runs lap after lap in prison.
Micky visits Dicky. He has an upcoming fight, to be aired on HBO, with a prizefighter named Sanchez. Dicky tells his brother that he thinks that Sal is using him — as a stepping stone for Sanchez. Dicky is afraid that Micky will go down. He tells him the only way he will win is to take punch after punch, to wear Sanchez down, to take the pain — and then deliver a K.O. blow. Micky refuses his advice; they quarrel.
The fight with Sanchez. Micky follows Dicky’s instruction to the letter — against O’Keefe’s wishes. Dicky is right: Sanchez is a fierce opponent. After six grueling rounds, Micky wears Sanchez down, and delivers a straight kidney punch. Knockout.
During the fight, Dicky tells Alice that Micky is doing precisely what he told him to.
After the fight, Micky learns that Sanchez was a title fighter. Micky is offered a championship fight in London.
All Is Lost: Dicky is released from prison. Alice drives him to the gym, where the daughters have assembled for a homecoming celebration.
Dicky’s ebullient. He knows that he saved Micky from defeat; he is certain that he will be welcomed back into Micky’s fold — but he is not. Micky tells him that he made a promise that he wouldn’t work with Dicky again. Alice is furious; he challenges Micky. He asks him if he could have won the Sanchez fight without his coaching. An argument breaks out. Faced with the truth, Micky confesses to Charlene, George, Sal, and O’Keefe that he couldn’t have won without Dicky.
Charlene and Micky quarrel. Micky accuses Charlene of sounding like his mother. He says he needs them all:
I want Dicky back. And I want you, Charlene
and I want O’Keefe. I want my family. What’s
wrong with that?
Charlene and O’Keefe tell Micky that the deal is off, and leave. Another tie broken.
Alice talks Micky into sparring with Dicky — they do, and Micky deliberately takes him down. Alice defends Dicky, but Micky has had enough:
Could this be my fight, Alice? Huh?
Just once? Maybe just this one time,
not for Dicky, huh? I know you think he’s
coming back. He’s forty years old and
doesn’t have a tooth in his head that’s
his f**king own.
The argument escalates. Parents against children, wife against husband, brothers against one another. George and Alice switch allegiances to their sons.
Dark Night of the Soul: The family unit is torn asunder. No whiff of death here; instead, the rank odor of decomposition. The family unit is dead. Micky is left with no one.
Break into Three: Dicky leaves. He carries his celebration cake to the crack house. He gives it to his former friends, and leaves.
Dicky goes to Charlene; they work out a tentative agreement. They will stand together for Micky.
Micky pulls up to discover Dicky and Charlene together. Micky’s family is restored. A & B have joined as one.
Finale: London. The championship fight. Micky and his team arrive (Gathering the Team).
Micky and his opponent are weighed. During a press conference, the opponent, Neary, belittles Micky. Micky’s conviction is unwavering. He deflects the taunts; his confidence is restored.
Dicky accompanies his brother to the ring (Storming the Castle); together, they sing to WhiteSnake’s cover of “Here I Go Again On My Own”… and yet, they have each other. Micky steps into the ring (Executing the Plan).
The bell rings. The fight begins. Micky is beaten over and over; he takes punch after punch to the gut. Micky tries to match Neary blow for blow… but Neary is unrelenting. Round after round, Micky struggles to keep up with his opponent. Neary begins to deliver a series of well-placed body shots. Micky goes down (The High-Tower Surprise)…
…and Dicky comes to him in the ring. While O’Keefe ministers to his wounds, Dicky delivers his one-two punch of love:
…you gotta win a title. For you. For me.
Once again, Micky listens to the advice of his brother.
The fight resumes. Once again, Micky is pummeled. Again. And again. Relentless. He seems on the verge of collapse (Dig, Deep Down)…
…when his confidence — and his strength — are restored. Micky drives punch after punch at Neary. He does not waver (Execution of New Plan).
Neary goes down. Micky has won.
Final Image: Micky and Dicky, together on a couch. “Who used to be the pride of Lowell, huh?” Dicky says as he points to himself. “Right here. Who’s the pride of Lowell, now? Right there,” he says as he points to Micky.
Honor has been restored. Transformation through completion.
Next week’s blog: From “The Best of Blake”