The Fighter (Dir. David O. Russell, 2010)

Industry: Film

The Fighter is a sports film, specifically within the cycle of boxing films. Raging Bull (1980) and Rocky (1976) also belong to this cycle. It is also a biographical film, often called ‘biopics’, as the narrative is based on the real life story of boxer Micky ‘Irish’ Ward. The film relates Ward’s unlikely journey to becoming the World Light Welterweight title. This is a ‘rags-to-riches’ story that focuses on Micky’s relationship with his half-brother, Dicky. Dicky acts as a mentor to his brother as well as providing him with narrative barriers, as Dicky struggles with drug addiction. The Fighter gained critical and popular favour and was nominated for seven awards at the 2010 Oscars.

Industry

Business and Release

The film was made for around $25 million, making it relatively low budget for Hollywood, but this can be explained by the somewhat niche audience as evidenced by the performances of the actors and the lack of multiplex values. It made just under $130 million worldwide (boxofficemojo.com). It was released in December 2010 in the US as the distributors wanted to position the film as an obvious contender for the awards season in January and February. It was released in February 2011 in the UK.

Production Companies

The two principal production companies who financed the production of The Fighter are Relativity Media and The Weinstein Company.

Relativity Media are an American independent film production and investment company. Founded in 2004, it is often engaged in producing films as part of a production partnership with other companies. Its most notable successes include: The Change Up (2011), Bridesmaids (2011), The Social Network (2010), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), Zombieland (2009) and Seven Pounds (2008). Relativity Media, as well as being involved in film production, is now developing into different media platforms including Pay TV and digital media.

The Weinstein Company is an American film studio founded by brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein in 2005. They were previously in charge of Miramax, which was owned by Disney at the time of their involvement. They also own Dimension Films. The Weinstein Brothers are regarded as important and influential figures in Hollywood, and TWC’s films include: Inglorious Basterds (2009), My Week With Marilyn (2012), The King’s Speech (2010) and Lucky Number Slevin (2006). They entered into a distribution pact with Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) in 2006 for MGM to distribute all TWC films in the US. The Weinstein Company’s primary media platform remains film.

There are other company names attached, but these are the two most influential. Having a film that is financed through a co-production partnership means that no one financier has a controlling stake, and the director benefits from more creative control. This is more common when the budget is low, like The Fighter.

The Director

David O. Russell is an American screenwriter, director and producer, who is probably best known for his films Three Kings (1999), I ♥ Huckabees (2004) and The Fighter (2010). He has won acclaim for his loose shooting style and the energy in his films. However, he has also courted controversy as he has been involved in on set disagreements with cast members, most notably George Clooney whilst shooting Three Kings. Russell does have a long standing creative relationship with Mark Wahlberg, who has appeared in Russell’s three most successful films.

The Stars

Mark Wahlberg is most well known for his film acting, but he is also film and television producer, most notably serving as executive producer on HBO’s Entourage and Boardwalk Empire. His acting career has been a varied one; he gained critical attention for his performance in the niche drama Boogie Nights (1997) and has subsequently starred in Hollywood fare such as Shooter (2007) and Max Payne (2008). Aside from being the ‘above-the-title’ star for these mainstream macho action films, Wahlberg has also performed in both quirky, offbeat, niche films such as I ♥ Huckabees (2004) and also in films that have earned him multiple award nominations such as Scorsese’s The Departed (2006). He has often favoured parts that offer stereotypical representations of masculinity in films for a mainly male audience – a US soldier in Three Kings (1999), a well-endowed porn star in Boogie Nights (1997), a police officer in We Own the Night (2007) and a deep sea fisherman in The Perfect Storm (2000). Interestingly, he was originally considered to for the role eventually played by Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain (2005), but he allegedly turned it down as he was uncomfortable with the film’s homosexual scenes. The role of Micky Ward in The Fighter is a perfect fit for Wahlberg, as the film tackles issues of traditional masculinity in relation to the themes of familial loyalty and personal ambition. As Wahlberg also served as producer for the film, it’s little wonder that The Fighter seems tailor-made for him.

Christian Bale is an English actor, who gained success initially as a child actor in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987). Like Wahlberg, he has acted in a variety of films ranging from big budget Hollywood films to smaller, independent niche films. He has carved a career that is characterised by a remarkable versatility and noteworthy commitment to his performances (e.g. in The Machinist [2004] he lost around 60lb to play an emaciated insomniac). Bale is often referred to as a ‘character actor’. He will often inhabit and create a character that is idiosyncratic and distinctive, and will often be very different from Bale himself. His work in American Psycho (2000) in I’m Not There (2007) are two such performances. This approach is different from an actor like Wahlberg, whose performances, some might say, are variations of his own persona. To mainstream audiences, Bale is probably best known as the actor who re-imagined Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot. Bale’s performance in The Fighter is based on the real Dicky Eklund, and earned him several high profile award nominations. He went on to win the 2010 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The Supporting Cast

Amy Adams is not as an established ‘star’ like Wahlberg and Bale yet. Mainstream audiences will probably associate her with her role in Disney’s Enchanted (2007). However, like Wahlberg and Bale, she has appeared in a variety of films including Night at the Museum 2 (2009) and the critically acclaimed independent film Junebug (2005), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. The other film that Adams appeared in in 2010 was Leap Year; a rom-com. Her role as Charlene, Micky’s girlfriend, suggests she is a versatile actress who is unwilling to be typecast.

Melissa Leo also won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Micky and Dicky’s mother, Alice. Leo is an American film and television actress, who has gained critical attention for supporting roles in more niche and independent films such as 21 Grams (2003) and Veronika Decides to Die (2009).

The Fighter was filmed on location in Lowell, Massachusetts, and so many of the supporting actors, including all of Alice’s daughters were non-professional actors who responded to a casting call in the city. Arguably the inclusion of these performers lends to the sense of authenticity in the film.

Audience

Demographic Profile

Due to the subject matter and the gender of the two lead actors, it’s not a stretch to say that the target audience is predominantly male.

The BBFC awarded The Fighter a 15 certificate, indicating that it is not a family film. The age demographic is likely to be 20-50, again as suggested by the age of the protagonist and the adult content.

The socio-economic group demographics are primarily B,C1 as this film is based on a true story it lacks the simplistic narrative, multiplex values and emphasis on spectacle that would indicate a more solidly mainstream audience. The audience is one that is likely to take notice and actively engage with films that are surrounded by positive critical reviews, particularly if they are considered potential award winners. However, the secondary audience will undoubtedly feature boxing enthusiasts, who themselves may occupy socio-economic groups C2, D and E.

Critical Reviews and Audience Reaction

Adam Smith – Empire Magazine “The Fighter might tread the well-worn route of almost every sports movie before it, but two very different but equally powerful performances combine to deliver an exhilarating fight-flick that, like its scrappy central character, is impossible not to root for.”

Peter Bradshaw – The Guardian “Russell has one really good scene: at the beginning, as his camera follows Dicky and Micky parading down the street, preening themselves in the neighbourhood, being followed by a camera crew recording what Dicky thinks is a positive documentary about his “comeback”. In fact, it is something quite different. It ends with an exhilarating, disorientating whoosh as the camera suddenly reverses away from the scene, as if recoiling from imminent calamity.

Bale uncorks an ostentatious display of Acting with a Capital A, nervy, twitchy, staring, starved down to addict-level. Wahlberg, stolid as ever, doesn’t appear to be acting at all. Bale, Adams and Leo all have Oscar nominations: I can only say that these are commanding, muscular performances but on one note only. Bale verges on self-parody with a performance similar but inferior to his appearances in The Machinist and Harsh Times.

Despite all those Oscar nominations, and awards-season excitement, The Fighter is no more than the sum of its parts, and actually has a TV-movie feel. It tries very hard to make you love it: it’s a fighter all right.”

‘Monotreme02’ –User Review (imdb.com) “Ultimately, The Fighter tells a pretty conventional story in an interesting and not necessarily conventional way. It is a film that could have been over-dramatized and heavy-handed had it been put in another director’s hands (see Cinderella Man for an example of over- dramatization), but Russell and his cast reign it in and set out to create a very specific atmosphere and set a particular mood that lends the film a sense of realism and a very unique dynamic energy that, with the help of the fantastic performances from the cast, help carry it above and beyond its conventional script.”

L.Davidson – User Review (amazon.co.uk) “I’m not a great fan of boxing , in fact I don’t like it at all, but despite this I quite enjoyed “The Fighter”, a captivating and envigorating [sic] film based on a true story. The movie is about the life of a young boxer, Micky Ward , played superbly by Mark Wahlberg, who goes on to win the world welterweight title. However the boxing is mostly incidental as the film features on the fraught relationships between Micky and his elder brother played by Christian Bale and his domineering mother and tough sisters. Micky’s brother once lost a bout to Sugar Ray Leonard but is now a crazed drug addict who doubles up as Micky’s trainer. Amy Adams play’s [sic] Ward’s girlfriend, a feisty barmaid who emboldens her placid and easily led boyfriend and inspires him to cut the apron strings from his mother and sisters and break free of his brother’s dominance. To be honest I didn’t like most of the characters in “The Fighter” who were all quite volatile, aggressive and unpredictable for my tastes, but the film told an interesting story and the boxing scenes were very realistic.”

Poster Analysis

• The poster is broadly split in half. The left half is dominated by the image of the actors whilst the right is dominated by the text. It has been constructed in this way, as it reflects how Western audiences read text and images (i.e. from left to right, top to bottom).
• The predominant colour is black. Black suggests enigma and drama to an audience.
• The photographic image is constructed to conveys several key messages to the audience:
1. It signals genre and cycle by including the iconography of boxing (the gloves, the ropes, the lights).
2. The positioning of Wahlberg in a more central position than Bale suggests that he is the protagonist. This is anchored by his name appearing first.
3. This is further reinforced by the fact that Wahlberg is positioned so that his face turned towards the camera. This is more engaging for the audience.
4. By contrast, Bale is in profile. This suggests that his character has something to hide and so creates enigma for the audience.
5. The two shot shows their unity, whilst clearly signalling who the ‘fighter’ is (Wahlberg is wearing the gloves). However, the positioning of the actors in terms of their facial expressions and body language connotes some conflict as they are not looking in the same direction.
6. The theatrical lights in the top left of the poster suggest that the narrative will feature high profile fights. This increases the audience’s expectations and anticipation of conflict and drama.
7. The use of red and blue robes is iconographic of boxing, but also is a pair of binary opposites with relevant connotations. Red – passion, blood, violence. Blue – masculinity, detachment.
• The colour palette is primarily black and white (binary opposites that suggest conflict) and gold, which connotes wealth and success, particularly when anchored to the boxing iconography.
• Review quotations from the Daily Star Sunday, Empire, Esquire and the Daily Telegraph – all publications that target male audiences.
• Five star rating – symbolic code connoting high quality.
• Intertextual reference to Rocky signals genre and cycle to the audience, whilst linking this film with an iconic and successful boxing movie.
• ‘Above-the-title’ stars’ names prioritised to suggest prominence in film – Wahlberg plays the protagonist, both Bale and Adams are supporting actors with Bale in the more significant role.
• The use of bold text gives typographic emphasis on the surnames of the actors indicates that they could be identified by these names alone. This is certainly true of Wahlberg and Bale. It suggests a masculine mode of address.
• ‘Based on a true story’ is positioned above the title to ensure that the audience is aware of this fact. This is an added draw for the audience, as they will bring with them expectations of authenticity and inspirational struggle.
• The film’s title is the most prominent text on the poster, and is capitalised to emphasise its importance. The word ‘fighter’ is prioritised. It has connotations of conflict, violence, struggle, perseverance and determination. It is also the word that is used to describe people who participate in boxing matches.
• The film’s certificate is positioned in small text underneath the title to the right. This is a convention of film poster lay out, and audiences will know where to locate it.
• The film credits are a convention of the film poster and are given an inferior priority position on the poster (bottom right). They are laid out in a way that the audience will quickly be able to recognise as film credits will quickly be able to navigate to locate specific information.
• Below the credits are the company logos for the production companies and distributors. In addition, a film specific website is advertised, as is the official film soundtrack. This is evidence of commercial intertextuality and product synergy.
• Copyright information is also included in the smallest font.

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