Written by Barnes Wheeler
I was lucky enough to attend a pre-screening for the latest outing from the volatile director David O. Russell, charting the rise of boxer Mickey Ward as he deals with a crack addicted ‘could’a been’ brother and controlling mother who dotes on his waste-of-space sibling. An HBO documentary is our way in, as a camera crew follows Dickie around in what he thinks is a movie charting his comeback, but in reality is about the perils of drug addiction. The “Pride of Lowell” who once knocked down (but not out) Sugar Ray Leonard, is delusional in his grasp for the spotlight, a fantasy stoked by his mother’s praise and his position as somewhat of a novelty in his small town.
Mark Wahlberg brings his best to this performance; think his Oscar nominated turn in “The Departed” and try to forget the Razzie laden “The Happening”. He loses out, however, when he squares off against the Batman himself, overshadowed by Bale’s always-impressive method approach to his work as he once again sheds the Dark Knight muscle to play the gaunt, drugged addled Dickie. Credit must be paid too to Melissa Leo, the mother of the pair and would-be manager. Constantly putting Dickie first, willfully ignoring his crack addiction and never realizing that her other son might also need her support. There is not a lot of room for Wahlberg to give a show-stopping performance as much like his character, until the latter part of the film he is constantly in the shadow of Bale and Leo, who deliver such overbearing figures that Wahlberg’s role revels in a subtly that can be lost next to their antics.
The relationship between Leo and Bale’s characters borders on the uncomfortable, clearly prizing him above Micky and their seven sisters she refuses to see him for the man he has become. She constantly claims she is working in the best interests of the family, but her other side is revealed as soon as she senses herself losing grip, brutally chastising one daughter for daring to question her. She forms one of the two central female figures in what at first seems to be a very masculine arena of cinema. The second is occupied by Amy Adams, turning in a performance that seems likely to be described with that oft’ used adjective ‘gritty’ in the sense that she is no longer the Disney princess and now drinks, swears and (my god!) did I just see a nipple?
The tension arises as Amy Adams’ Charlene comes into Mickey’s life and tries to wrench control away from his mother. This conflict comes to a head as Charlene breaks the nose of one of the annoying sister underlings in a fairly satisfying manner, but is never explicitly resolved; the scenes of apology and absolution saved for a post-incarceration, and now sober Dickie. Back in his brother’s corner after some pre-match advice vindicates him enough to convince his brother’s new team to let him back to the ringside. The final fight for a shot at the championship belt converges the two storylines and serves as a climax to each: the family reunited and the underdog having his day.
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson take on scripting duties and deliver a solid-structured and surprisingly witty script. To dismiss their work into the annals of the sporting underdog film would do it a great disservice. Russell and his team take a tried and tested narrative and explore the relationships that can develop within it.
I am reluctant to assign a star rating or rank of any sort as I don’t believe this is a film that should be pitted against the latest outing from The Fockers, or Tron: Shiny-Space, instead I will simply urge you to see it. My previous experience with Russell’s work, 2004’s “Three Kings”, had me prepared for a testosterone driven fight film, but I was delighted to find a work with both more heart and humour than I had envisioned, a sentiment echoed by my girlfriend, whom I had also dragged along. This film will not change your life, but it will move you and is definitely worth two hours of your time.