In rebooting “Operation 6-pack” (the official branding for my twice-yearly attempt at a fitness regime), I may do well to use tonight’s MNFC as inspiration. Firstly, was our hostess for the evening herself, Comrade Di, whose own boxing prowess has given our Monday evenings a great narrative this year, with tales of fights and punches. And secondly, was her film choice for this evening. The Fighter is a great addition to the boxing genre, and to the biopic too. It had enough skipping, running, and punch bag action, to snap any lazy MNFC-er out of their slothful weekend binge. Having said that, whilst Mark Wahlberg’s gun show might be impressive, I’m not entirely sure that Christian Bale’s body transformation for the movie should be the template that I use for this year’s Operation 6-pack. More on this later…
The Fighter is a film from 2010, chronicling the real life story of boxer Micky Ward, played by Mark Walberg. During our chin stroking at the end of the evening, our discussions turned to the career of our Marky Mark; thankfully we felt that his performance here was more Boogie Nights in quality, than The Happening. Clearly an actor whose abilities are strongly influenced by the quality of direction and script; director David O. Russell and the script writing team have made Micky Ward a character who you develop a lot of sympathy for. The ‘white trash’ setting, his over-bearing family, and his crack-addicted brother Dicky (played by Christian Bale) all have you routing for Micky and his unpredictable career trajectory.
In many ways, however, the movie isn’t really about Micky at all. As I sit writing this review, it is the story of his brother that stays with you after the credits roll. I actually saw The Fighter when it was released back in 2010, and indeed over the last five years, it is the character of Dicky that I remember most clearly. On the one hand, he is a fascinating character: a previous boxing champion in his own right, who in the story of The Fighter is being filmed for an HBO documentary. Ricky believes this to be about his pending triumphant return to boxing. HBO are, of course, actually creating a documentary about crack cocaine addiction and the devastating effect is has on a person and their family.
For his portrayal of Ricky, Christian Bale lost 30 pounds of weight prior to filming. Seeing him on screen in such an emaciated way is shocking; particularly in that this film was straddled by The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), in which Christian Bale played Batman in with his usual muscular physique. We spent some time after the film considering whether or not weight loss like this was necessary in the portrayal of such a character. The consensus amongst our film club seemed to be that indeed it was; the way a person moves, his physicality, all contribute to the overall portrayal of the character on screen. Tom Hiddleston, in a recent BBC Radio 4 Film Programme podcast, disagrees. Here he describes his own portrayal of singer Hank Williams in I Saw the Light:
“I knew I had to look like him, I knew I had to sound like him, and put myself through the paces that he went through. But I do think, I personally… I don’t judge anybody else… I think there’s over-emphasis on weight loss or weight gain in acting… I don’t think it’s impressive. I don’t want to cast aside people who’ve done it, and I admire performances where it’s part of the story, like Michael Fassbender in ‘Hunger’ for example. I didn’t want my portrait of Hank Williams to be about how much weight I’d lost. I wanted it to be about channeling his spirit and his joy at making music.”
On the The Fighter‘s release, the real life counterparts of the characters in the film certainly did not approve to how they came across. Dicky Eklund in particular was not happy at all about how his mother and sisters were portrayed, and in anger he yelled at Christian Bale after a screening. His sisters also did not like their portrayals. Beaver Eklund walked out of a screening of the film in protest. I suppose that is not necessarily evidence that the portrayals were inaccurate. I suspect that viewing our own lives down somebody else’s camera lens would shock us all. But if there was a lot of artistic license used, is this really fair when you are creating a film about real people and real situations?
Either way, Christian Bale certainly does not shy away from his physical commitment to the roles he plays. As evidence, and, because even Rocky had a montage, check this out:
Who knows, maybe I’ll collate my own body transformation YouTube video someday. But perhaps I’ll just let my six-pack speak for itself. Anyway, I’m off to the gym now. And later, might get me a pizza. I’m just so conflicted.
For a great “making of…” documentary, check this link out. And see you back at the next MNFC extravaganza, our Christmas special, and coincidentally our 75th film screening!
THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY