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Cinema in Focus: Boxing Drama ‘The Fighter’ Triumphs

Film tells a semi-true story of Micky Ward, whose battles weren't only in the ring

3 Stars — Challenging

Do we love someone for who they are? Or, do we love someone for what they can do for us? Most people probably would admit that it’s a combination of both, but when a relationship becomes strained you will have to decide which value is the most important to maintain.

The Fighter tells a semi-true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a small-time fighter who rose to fame in the 1980s, gaining the world light welterweight title. Ward was trained by his brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a pro fighter who was a local legend around their hometown of Lowell, Mass., but who had descended into the world of drug abuse. Eklund’s interest in promoting his brother was as much about keeping his reputation alive as it was about helping Ward win a title.

Adding to the brilliantly displayed dysfunction of this family is Ward and Eklund’s mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo). She is intent on promoting her son as a source of revenue for her household, which includes a henpecked husband and seven daughters — none of whom ever seem to be able to keep a job, so they depend on their youngest brother to underwrite their lifestyles. If there was a textbook case for studying a group of self-centered individuals, this would be it.

As a young man, Micky Ward possessed talent in the ring. Remarkably, he has maintained a degree of humility and personal discipline that seems nonexistent in the rest of his family. These attractive qualities become even more valuable to his mother and his family as they seek to milk his financial well-being for all it’s worth. All of this is against a background of the world of professional boxing, which seems to attract mentors and sponsors that are less than saintly.

The story is well-written, and the acting talent are worthy of Oscars. The portrayal of a dysfunctional family is both tragic and at times comical. The overall emotional impact of the story leaves you torn between happiness for Ward’s success and sadness for the remarkable lack of love that can exist in a family.

The grim reality is that we have all known people or families who have operated at this level of denial and emptiness. It is a disturbing visual of “hell on Earth.” The fact that someone can be loved and brought forth from this condemnation is truly a gift of grace.

In Ward’s case, it comes in the form of a girlfriend, Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), who believes in him, supports him for who he is and sacrifices herself daily for him, making her a light shining in his dark world of self-centered women.

The hope displayed in The Fighter is that everyone has a chance to rise above a hellish situation — especially if their heart remains open. In this case, Ward’s grace and compassion also shaped Eklund to make sacrifices for his brother out of love rather than self-interest. This story may not be the easiest to watch, but it certainly is a worthy and well-told depiction of redemption in the midst of a failed family.

Discussion:

» 1. Dependent personalities often find a strong and capable person to take care of them. But it is a two-way relationship in which the successful person doesn’t have the ability to say no. Why do you think Ward couldn’t say no to his mother and sisters?

» 2. The power of addiction to steal our reputations and our health is most often overcome by love. Have you ever experienced the power of love to heal you? How did it happen?

» 3. The ability to accomplish something significant with our lives requires help. How have you been helped in your accomplishments?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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