While we were watching The Fighter (IMDB) last night, I caught my fiancee, a native of nearby Quincy, squirming several times at the depiction of Lowell, Massachusetts, the depleted industrial town that boxer Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) called home. The broken down cars, shuttered buildings, the trash-strewn streets, and even the big hair and sharp accents all reminded her of a town her mother warned her about, one that the film manages to capture relatively authentically, even down to the accents (though Melissa Leo and Amy Adams slipped a few times). It’s that kind of hardscrabble realism that saves what might have otherwise been a somewhat hokey sports character drama.
Many of the town’s residents have fallen into hard times, and we learn that Micky’s brother, a local boxing legend, Dicky Eklund, has become a deeply deluded crack addict, one who is convinced that an HBO crew documenting his daily routine is planning a movie about his professional comeback–not his addiction. Of course we learn, well before Dicky realizes it, that the film is High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell, a harrowing, and shockingly intimate, account of three Lowell residents who have developed addictions to one of the most powerful drugs out there. The documentary is available through Snag Films, and it’s fascinating to watch, both for its depictions of addiction and for the documentary portrayals of the characters in The Fighter.
A look back at the documentary shows that Melissa Leo has perfectly captured the coiffed-up pretensions of Micky and Dicky’s mother, her ability to deny the fact Dicky is addicted, even while attempting to control the lives of her sons. And Christian Bale’s gaunt features reflect the emptied out face of Dicky during the era when he was addicted. For the most part, The Fighter avoids directly depicting the original documentary, instead re-enacting some of the scenes involving Dicky, but it’s fascinating to see the intertextual relationship between both films, to see how The Fighter revisits that earlier material. This documentary subtext is reinforced through a storytelling device in the film, in which the filmmakers are ostensibly interviewing Micky and Dicky about their experiences.
This is one of those occasions where an Oscar nomination (or five) encouraged me to check out a film that I otherwise would have missed. Boxing is a brutal sport, one that I don’t particularly enjoy, but the recognition made me just curious enough to watch, and I am glad that I did, especially after recognizing the relationship to High on Crack Street (which in many ways, is a far more brutal film). It’s clear that the film struggled a little to work against sports movie cliches, especially given that Micky’s story conforms to many of those cliches, but as an attempt to construct a realistic depiction of Lowell, Mass, it’s fascinating little film.
Update: For the curious, here is an embed of High on Crack Street, the 1995 HBO documentary that plays a key role in The Fighter, courtesy of SnagFilms: