The Fighter examines the wonderful scene in which Charlene forces Micky to confront his mother and brother about their mismanagement of his career. Let’s look at how the scene subconsciously creates suspense.
Scenes always benefit from a “ticking clock”. The simplest form of this is a scene in which one side was ambushed and tries to get away from the conversation the whole time. But in the scene we looked at, the meeting was planned in advance and both sides seem to be willing to discuss this for as long as it takes (even though nobody wants to be there). So how do you add suspense?
The answer has to do with another post: have a non-story element in each scene. In this case, we begin as Micky and Charlene wait uncomfortably for Alice and Dicky to arrive while Micky’s seven sisters glare at them. Charlene glares right back, then aggressively engages them in conversation, attempting to determine which sister goes with which nickname (“You’re Beaver? And you’re Red Bear? Red Beard?”). The girls sneer that those nicknames are only for family. Micky snaps at them “Be nice!” But then, a beat later, even though the sisters haven’t said anything else, he wilts and says quietly to Charlene, “Don’t use the nicknames.”
So now we’ve established the problem: Micky will only stick by Charlene so long until he caves to family pressure and his own conflict-averse nature. Just then, Alice and Dicky arrive, and we have the subconscious sense that Charlene is going to have to fight against the clock to get keep Micky on the offensive before he instinctively “goes back to his corner.” She’s got a long way to go and a short time to get there…and as Burt Reynolds can tell you, that’s the heart of good drama.