This real-life sports drama tells the redemptive story of boxers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund - half-brothers whose relationship is almost destroyed by Dicky's drug addiction. The Paramount Pictures release was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two.
By CBSNews.com producer David Morgan
In 1993, "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a boxer in the hard-luck town of Lowell, Mass. When not spreading asphalt on the streets, he is always training for the next match, which never seems to bring the prize money or notoriety he dreams of, especially given the expectations of his family.
His older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) was himself a fighter who inspired Micky to follow in his footsteps. In the young boxer Dicky sees a chance to achieve what he never did: a title fight. As Micky's trainer he imparts wisdom, but also slouches off his responsibilities.
As an HBO crew films Dicky (documenting his comeback, he says), Dicky can't help reliving - ceaselessly - his most cherished moment in the ring, when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in an HBO bout 14 years earlier. By now everyone in Lowell knows the tale of how Leonard was felled (or, perhaps, had merely slipped).
The painful truth of Dicky's continued absence from the training gym is his crack habit. Like the pipe dreamers of "The Iceman Cometh," Dicky deludes himself and others into ignoring his own addiction.
Among those who refuse to accept or admit Dicky's problem is his mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), who was his boxing manager and now manages her other son. A stage mother (a "ring mother" might be more apropos), Alice is like the CEO of Micky Ward, Inc. - brazen and ruthless in negotiating matches for Micky, and in arguing against anyone she feels would interfere in his career.
Micky's recent losing streak seems less worrying to Alice than the possibility that he might go outside the family for his training. Micky even turns aside an offer from a Las Vegas promoter because it would keep Dicky from his side.
Micky meets Charlene (Amy Adams), a bartender who coolly appraises the fighter but becomes impressed by his chivalrous defense of her from a loutish bar patron. She gives him her phone number.
The turning point for Micky comes in Atlantic City, where his planned match against Saoul Mamby is cancelled when his opponent loses a bout with the flu. Alice and Dicky urge Micky to accept a substitute fighter - one who has 20 pounds on Micky - and the fighter, eager to please, agrees.
Bad move. Mike "Machine Gun" Mungin (Peter Cunningham) sweeps the floor with Micky (on ESPN!) and everyone after the fact agrees it was a mistake. But Micky now questions whether he even has a future in the ring.
Charlene is moved by his humiliation but upset that Micky cannot move beyond his family and get proper management. She supports his plan to take on a new manager who promises to back him on the condition that Dicky and Alice are out of the picture.
Micky's difficulty at letting go of Dicky is made easier when Dicky is arrested for impersonating a cop in a scheme to roll johns. In an altercation, Micky's hand is injured, which numbs any sense of betrayal he feels in turning his back on Dicky when his brother is sent to prison.
Dicky is back on familiar turf, and his fellow inmates' welcoming is not unlike the greetings he'd gotten entering the ring. But his self-delusions are more ironic, his withdrawal more painful, and he slowly sees the need to make a change.
While watching the HBO documentary in jail - a film not about a boxer's comeback but an expose about crack addiction in America - Dicky flips from being the flamboyant star of his own life story to the shamed failure of a father, son and brother.
Micky gains ground in his career, racking up wins and eventually making it to a Las Vegas bout on HBO.
He alters his fight plan and takes the advice Dicky offers, scoring a dramatic upset victory over Alfanso Sanchez (Miguel Espino).
The fighter is now at an impasse: He finds he cannot turn his back on his family, and he cannot reject the help of his girlfriend, trainer and manager.
Like last year's sports-theme Oscar nominee, "The Blind Side" (which also featured a strong-willed sharp-tongued mother figure in Sandra Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohy), "The Fighter" is built on a classic theme of suffering and redemption. But while the "Bind Side"'s footballer succeeded by giving himself over to his team, Micky Ward succeeds only after he loses the fear of calling the shots himself and by demanding what he thinks is best, even at the risk of hurting others' feelings.
Golden Globe nominee Mark Wahlberg (Micky) has come a long way since he first appeared on the scene as rapper Marky Mark. He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "The Departed," and is up for another Oscar as producer for "The Fighter." He previously worked with director David O. Russell on the Iraq War adventure "Three Kings." Wahlberg's other credits include "The Basketball Diaries," "Boogie Nights," The Yards," "The Perfect Storm," "Planet of the Apes," "The Truth About Charlie," "The Italian Job," "I Heart Huckabees," "Four Brothers, "Invincible," "Shooter," "The Happening," "Max Payne," "The Lovely Bones," "Date Night" and "The Other Guys." He is also executive producer of the HBO series "Entourage," "In Treatment" and "Boardwalk Empire."
A fan of Ward's and long involved in bringing his story to the screen, Wahlberg was in training for three years before filming even began, bringing his athletic trainer with him on other film shoots. "I didn't want to look like an actor who could box; I wanted to look like a boxer who could win the world title," he told CBS News' Lara Logan. Wahlberg said he did almost get his nose broken a couple of times in the ring, but that stunt men were out of the question.
Wahlberg also trained with Ward and Eklund, and even took some practice bouts with "Irish." "He punches hard and he knows where to get you, too," Ward said. "He watched me too good!"
Best Supporting Actor nominee Christian Bale dropped almost 30 pounds in his startling physical transformation into the addicted Dickey Eklund, while also undergoing extensive boxing training. Bale made his first major feature film appearance at age 13 in the 1987 Steven Spielberg epic "Empire of the Sun." Since then he quickly progressed from child actor ("Treasure Island," "Newsies") to more mature roles in "Little Women," "The Portrait of a Lady," "Velvet Goldmine," "American Psycho," "Shaft," "Rescue Dawn," "The New World," "The Prestige," "3:10 to Yuma," "I'm Not There," "Terminator Salvation," and "Public Enemies." He took on the role of the Caped Crusader in "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," and will return in Christopher Nolan's follow-up, "The Dark Knight Rises."
Before earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as Charlene, Amy Adams received Oscar nominations for her roles in "Junebug" (2005) and "Doubt" (2008). After her film debut in 1999's "Drop Dead Gorgeous," she made a run of TV appearances in such shows as "Smallville," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' "That '70s Show," "Charmed," "The West Wing," and "The Office." Her other film credits include "Catch Me if You Can," "The Wedding Date," "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Enchanted," "Charlie Wilson's War," "Sunshine Cleaning," "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," "Julie & Julia," and "Leap Year." Coming up: "The Muppets," "On the Road," and the immortal Janis Joplin in "Janis Joplin: Get It While You Can."
Best Supporting Actress nominee Melissa Leo (Alice) was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role as a smuggler of illegal immigrants in "Frozen River" (2008). In addition to a starring role in the TV series "Homicide: Life on the Street," Leo's film credits include indie films "Always" and "Venice/Venice," "Black Irish," "21 Grams," "The House is Burning," "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "American Gun," "Conviction," and the upcoming "Red State."
Best Director nominee David O. Russell debuted in 1994 with the comedy "Spanking the Monkey," followed by the Ben Stiller starrer "Flirting With Disaster." But it was his 1999 Iraq War caper "Three Kings," starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze, that showed his gift for mixing comedy, drama and adventure with a gritty visual style. It was five years before his next film, the comedy "I Heart Huckabees." After years of development, "The Fighter" was shot in 33 days, with Lowell (and many members of the Ward/Eklund family) playing prominent roles.
The performers recreated the moves of the original matches, but their immediacy was captured by replicating the video set-ups of the original broadcasts, using period cameras and even hiring the original HBO crews. The original sportscasts' color commentary was also woven into the soundtrack.
"Oh my, oh my God. Oh wow really, really, really, really, really, truly wow. I know there's a lot of people that said a lotta real, real nice things to me for several months now, but I'm just shaking in my boots here!" Melissa Leo, who lost the Best Actress Award two years ago to Kate Winslet, was "kind of speechless" as she accepted her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress from presenter Kirk Douglas, but not speechless enough for the TV censor's "off" switch when she exclaimed, "When I watched Kate two years ago, it looked so [EXPLETIVE DELETED] nice!"
Backstage, she apologized: "I had no idea. Those words, I apologize to anyone that they offend. There's a great deal of the English language that is in my vernacular."
Christian Bale missed Leo's F-bomb, having gone out to the bar with Dicky Eklund and his wife. "They wouldn't let me [back] in," he said later. "I was literally banging on the door with Dicky going, 'Let us in.' And they wouldn't let us in. That was my mistake. I'll know better if I ever return to the Academy Awards."
Backstage, Bale asked reporters about his speech accepting the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. "You know, you get up there and you're giving your speech, and I hope to God that I said Mark and Melissa and Amy and Jack. Did I mention them? I did? Fantastic. All right. Huge relief."
Bale complimented his fellow nominees. "But equally, there's so many other actors out there who would deserve being up here as well, you know?" he said. "It's all just a matter of opinion and so abstract. This is a very bizarre thing. But at the same time, I just can't help but be touched so dearly by it. You know, people, so many inspirational, talented people decided that I was worthy of this. I just treasure this."
When asked if his win for this small, dramatic film would mean "no more Batman," Bale responded, "No. I mean, I'm in the middle of filming a movie in China right now. When I finish the movie in China it's straight on to Batman. So absolutely, much more Batman."