Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

The Fighter

Release Date: 12-17-10

Review Date: 12-21-10

Running Time: 115 min.

Period: 1993

Costume Designer: Mark Bridges

Where to begin?! The Fighter is a great movie – there is not one false note to be found. Director David O. Russell has exercised great restraint and respect for the material in telling boxer Micky Ward’s story, and the result is breathtaking. The costumes are eloquent when the actors are silent – it’s like a trip in a time machine, to a very specific place and situation. I can’t say enough good things.

The film is based on the story of “Irish” Micky Ward and his rise to boxing superstardom. Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is the younger brother of Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale). Dicky, in his time, was “the pride of Lowell (Massachussetts)” – a gifted boxer in his own right, who succumbed to drugs and crime. Now a crack addict, Dicky tries to train Micky, but ultimately can’t keep it together. Micky’s career is managed by his scarily overbearing mother Alice Ward (Melissa Leo), and he gets pummeled in fight after fight, losing his confidence along the way.

After getting the snot beaten out of him, and after meeting a smart, beautiful woman – Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams) – he figures out that his mom and brother (in their managerial/training roles) are not doing him any favors. He agrees to train with police officer Mickey O’Keefe, and retains Sal Lanano as his manager, and they make Micky swear that he will not have any training contact with Dicky. With their help, Micky blossoms.

Meanwhile, Dicky has landed in prison, and while there has kicked his crack habit. He gives Micky training advice over the phone, and (using it) Micky knocks out his opponent, advancing to the world-champion welterweight title fight. Micky wants both O’Keefe and Dicky in his corner, and somehow he finds a way to make it happen.

In the end, this is not really a movie about boxing, but a tale of a family’s bond, forgiveness and love. The family unit here is totally dysfunctional, but their devotion to each other and their shared idea of what family means is moving. We may not like what they do (drugs, crime, violence) but in the end, the family ties that bind them allow them to forgive each other and retain a sense of support and comfort in the familiar space they create for one another.

But let’s talk about the costumes, because they are really special.

Anyone who is old enough to really remember the early 1990s will shudder with delight and horror at these costumes, and I mean that in a good way. Costume designer Mark Bridges has done an excellent job of recreating this time period, warts and all. And lets be honest – Lowell, Massachusetts does not have the design sensibility of New York City. It’s not high fashion here; it’s blue-collar at best. The world he has created is gritty and real: there are shoulder pads, high-top Reeboks, scrunchie socks and acid wash.

Take a look at the sisters – they are like a Greek chorus in this film. Alice Ward has nine children by two different fathers, and in the film (at least) they are all similar in age. These daughters are always together, clucking away like hens in the henhouse. Special mention must be made, and kudos given, to the hair and makeup department. They look perfect, in every exacting way, perfect for Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1993. It’s making my head spin.

Along those lines, let’s examine Alice Ward. She is the original Mama Grizzly here, and look at her imposing shoulder pads and stark, angular silhouette… not to mention the leopard print. Her costumes have a primal, sexy-ish vibe to them, and in this way, they call attention to her body. She may be aging, but it’s not going to stop her from looking and feeling “hot”.

Her jewelry is sublime: it’s too much, it’s too big, it’s inappropriate, just as it should be. It may sound like a contradiction, but inappropriate IS appropriate here. In this “attention-grabbing” mindset, more is more.

Another special kudos to the hair/makeup department. This looks like it’s Leo’s real hair, and all of that bleaching and hair spraying must have taken its toll. I just can’t get over what a great job everyone did. It’s excellent work.

One of the best costumes in the film, in my opinion, has to be Dicky’s first costume change. It seems simple enough: t-shirt, cut-off sweats, boots, baseball hat, but look closely. Look at the washed-out colors. There is no life left in him.

Look at the way the fabric hangs from his once-robust body. The aging/tech of this costume is sublime, and this, paired with long, dangling crucifix and work boots? It is a subtle costume, but these details really speak to Dicky’s state of mind and desperation. I love it.

Here we see Dicky with his son Little Dicky (Jackson Nicoll). Note again, the absence of color – things are in shades of grey, taupe, white, with only the slightest purplish hue in the frame. Also note (if you can see it) that the kid has a pierced ear. GENIUS.

An interesting color issue comes up when we meet Charlene. At the bar, Charlene wears a revealing reddish tank top. Red = desire, passion, lust, etc. It works in this case to pinpoint her as the object of Micky’s desire.

Later in the film, we see Micky confront his family. What color does he wear? The same reddish hue – only here, he is dealing with anger and confrontation. I thought it was interesting to link the colors in this way, because Charlene (introduced in red) leads him to the truth, and to confront his family, where he then wears red. To me, it seemed full-circle.

As for Micky’s fighting costumes – he is mostly seen in white. White trunks, white robe, white Trainers’ shirts.

Spelled incorrectly here as MickEy...

The robes and shirts have his name on them, first spelled incorrectly as “Mickey”, later corrected to “Micky”. It’s a small detail, but I loved it – it points to the fact that people are taking him seriously.

Spelling corrected to MICKY

Spelling corrected to MICKY

Nice corporate sponsorship from Everlast – a no-brainer for product placement. It was nice to see their brand represented so well in this film.

The performances in this film are magical. I believed every moment of it. There is some heartbreaking stuff in this film, and Christian Bale (for one) is outstanding. At the end of the film, as the credits begin to roll, we see footage of the real-life Micky and Dicky.  It is this clip, this quick glimpse into the real characters, that seals the deal for me in terms of Bale’s spectacular performance. Whatever you do, don’t leave the theater early when you see this film. Stay for the clip of the brothers.  It’s such a remarkable movie. Enjoy, everyone!

– KMB

PS:  The sisters clean up pretty well, too – here is a pic of them at the premiere.  Hard to recognize them without the giant hair!!

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