Christian Bale Enters Oscar® Pantheon
There are “actors,” like Zac Efron and George Clooney, and then there are “auteurs,” like Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis. The term “auteur” traditionally refers to film directors whose distinctive style makes their movies reflect their artistry rather than anyone else’s -- including the writer. But it seems appropriate to use this term as a way to differentiate between approaches to the acting craft as well. While there are thousands of actors, there are only a few true auteurs. Actors merely recite lines and gesture appropriately, but auteurs embody characters completely. In short, they lose themselves in their characters, thereby rendering themselves nearly unrecognizable. They may do this through the use of prosthetics, like Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours and Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster. They may also do it by losing/gaining a disfiguring amount of weight, as we witnessed with Christian Bale shedding 62 pounds in The Machinist and Robert De Niro packing on 70 pounds in Raging Bull. Or they may accomplish this via a bit of method acting, as was the case with Daniel Day-Lewis, who fractured two ribs by adamantly refusing to break character and be removed from his wheelchair while playing Christy Brown in My Left Foot. And it’s no coincidence that each of these actors/actresses has been awarded an Oscar.
The latest addition to the Academy Awards pantheon is Christian Bale, the temperamental Welshman who completely immersed himself in the character of Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, based on a true story of two brothers trying to make boxing headlines in the mid-1980s in Lowell, Massachusetts. Older half-brother, Dicky, trains his younger sibling, “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), but lately, they’ve had a bout of bad luck and a few defeats, leading everyone in the boxing community to view Micky as a “stepping stone” fighter to vault other careers. Meanwhile, still milking his one shining moment from earlier on his own career, in which he “knocked down” (or did he slip?) Sugar Ray Leonard, Dicky finds himself in the spotlight of an HBO documentary, presumably chronicling his big comeback. But things fall apart quickly whenever one of Micky’s challengers falls ill and is inexplicably replaced by a fighter eighteen pounds heavier. Despite Micky’s serious reservations, Dicky and Micky’s manager, who happens to be his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), persuade him to fight for the purse. Unfortunately, Micky is roundly pummeled and shamed.
At this point, Micky finds love and solace in the arms of a sexy barfly, Charlene (Amy Adams). Presented with a paid opportunity to train in Las Vegas year-round, Micky questions whether he should continue with his trainer and manager or go outside the family to advance his career. Dicky, clearly addicted to crack, assures Micky that he can match the money, so he persuades his Cambodian girlfriend to prostitute herself out. In the middle of the exchange, Dicky impersonates a police officer and robs the john. It doesn’t take long for the real police to catch on, and in his efforts to elude the cops, Dicky beats up a few and winds up in prison. In the scuffle to defend his brother, Micky’s hand gets brutally broken, so out of frustration, he disowns Dicky.
Much to the chagrin of Alice and her seven daughters, Micky, following Charlene’s loving advice, finds himself equipped with a new trainer and manager, and after a few quick victories, he slowly begins to make a name for himself. Along the way, the HBO documentary finally airs, and as it turns out, it was really a film on crack addiction. Despite the humiliation, Micky pushes onto his next opponent, a number one contender. One day, while reluctantly visiting Dicky in prison, Micky receives some unsolicited advice for the upcoming fight from his brother. In secret, he uses it as a last resort and wins the bout. Micky is now up for a shot at the title. Dicky, however, recently released, expects to return to his brother’s corner. Will Micky embrace him? And even if he does, will Micky have a chance in the ring against a bona fide champion? Will he become the new welterweight champion of the world?
Bale’s portrayal of Dicky comes across as nothing short of awe-inspiring. Aside from losing a ton of his Dark Knight muscle, he has the rapid-fire speech of an inspired has-been, the shaky mannerisms of a crackhead, and the highly polished Boston accent, all of which scream authenticity. Downshifting from the stately Bruce Wayne would seem nearly impossible, but Bale pulls it off masterfully. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo also deserve the accolades they’ve received for their brilliant performances. And Mark Wahlberg? Well, in my opinion, he played himself again.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “R” for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.)