Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health 2011, 23(1): 63–64 Printed in South Africa — All rights reserved

Copyright © NISC Pty Ltd

JOURNAL OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT MENTAL HEALTH ISSN 1728–0583 EISSN 1728–0591 DOI: 10.2989/17280583.2011.594256

Movie Review The Fighter

‘The Fighter’ is a biographic sports drama directed by David O Russell, based on the lives of welterweight champion, ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who boxed in the 1980s and his training partner, his half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The film was nominated for seven Oscars (best directing, best picture, best editing, three best supporting actors and best actor) and won two (two best supporting actors). In many ways it is a movie with similar themes to many other boxing/ wrestling movies in the ‘Rocky’ or ‘The Wrestler’ tradition of working class boy who makes good through his talent and grit as a fighter. Where ‘The Fighter’ differs and might appeal to a more psychologically inclined audience, is in the way Micky Ward’s dysfunctional family is the alternate focus of the film. The family both hinders and yet supports him and their rigid family system changes when outsiders enter it and force people to move out of stereotyped roles and start acting differently. It is a good example of systemic family therapy in action. The film opens with Micky playing his family role of aider and abetter to his older half-brother, Dicky, who is a failed champion boxer and crack cocaine addict. The family myth is that Dicky is the talented boxer and just needs to get his career back on track. His addiction is unspoken and denied by everyone. The dominant figure in the family is the monstrous mother, Alice Ward (Melissa Leo), whose acting is worthy of her Oscar win. She is the matriarch of her nine children and is also Micky’s manager. She is ambitious, controlling, vulgar, lives vicariously through the talent of her sons, dominates her daughters and ex-husbands and rules with an iron hand. She also shamelessly favours her oldest son, Dicky, and is blind to his addiction, which she enables and ignores. The seven sisters and half-sisters are disappointingly the only stereotyped roles in the film and act as a unit. They represent blind family loyalty and obedience to their mother and none of them emerges as an individual. They also all live through the success of their brothers. Micky is unhappy in his role as foil to his brother and a meal ticket for the family, as he is placed in unsuitable fights, where he is hurt and abused. Yet, he cannot leave and continues to rescue his brother, put up with the abuse and exploitation and deny the seriousness of his brother’s addiction. Two things happen which shake up the family. Firstly an HBO film crew do a documentary on Dicky, which the whole family misconstrues as a documentary about Dicky’s comeback, instead of one on addiction. At the same time Micky meets a college athlete drop out, and bartender, Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), and falls in love. The family recognises the girlfriend as a threat, but due to the level of their denial, fail to see the movie crew as a potential threat. They do everything in their power to eject the girlfriend, but she is equal to the task, having similar characteristics to Micky’s mother. She too, is insensitive to Micky’s needs and is similarly ambitious for him, but to a lesser extent than Micky’s mother. Micky’s father, George Ward (Jack McGee), tries to help his son, but is too ineffective and dominated by his ex-wife and can only do this once the girlfriend has entered the system. Micky’s loyalties shift and he fires his mother as manager and his brother as his sparring partner and coach. His withdrawal of the rescuing role he plays in his brother’s life leads to a variety of consequences, one of which is Dicky getting arrested and going to jail, where he is forced to sober up. Micky starts to win his fights, but struggles with the break-up from his family. When the documentary is screened it opens up to the world the extent of Dicky’s addiction and degradation that forces the family to finally admit to the problem that has been there for years. The Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health is co-published by NISC (Pty) Ltd and Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group



combination of these changes to the family system lead to the family having to re-look at the roles of the various members and to re-group in a new and less dysfunctional way. The film is cleverly directed with equal drama being given to the boxing scenes and the family drama. The acting by all the cast is convincing. Christian Bale does tend to steal the show with his wonderful portrayal of a devious, charming, flawed but ultimately loving man, who has lost his way. If the boxing scenes are too vivid one can always close ones eyes and simply enjoy the family drama unfolding. The film ends with an interview of the real Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, who are now in their late 40s, that further illuminates the relationship between the brothers.

Dr Lynda Albertyn President, The South African Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (SAACAPAP); Head, The Child, Adolescent and Family Unit, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital; and, Principal Specialist Psychiatrist, Department of Psychiatry, University of Witwatersrand Medical School, Johannesburg e-mail: [email protected]

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