I'm a sucker for a boxing movie. I loved Raging Bull. I loved Rocky. I loved Fat City and When We Were Kings and I even loved Ali.
Unusually, then, I wasn't looking forward to this - mostly, I think, due to a Christian Bale aversion that I've been nurturing over the last eight or nine years. I loved him as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho - a role he comprehensively owned, yet has stalked him ever since - but such is his tendency to put in ostentatious scenery-munching 'performances'. However, before we get into all that, the movie:
The story is largely true: set in the somewhat depressed post-industrial town of Lowell, Massachussets, Mark Walhberg plays Micky Ward, a'stepping stone' boxer who is (mis)managed by his mother, Alice (oscar-nominated Melissa Leo), and dogged by the failings of his charismatic but feckless crack-addict (and former title-contender) half-brother Dicky Ecklund (Bale). After Micky shacks up with love interest Charlene (Amy Adams) tensions begin to rise as it appears that if Micky wants success, he may have to leave his family behind.
Well, I enjoyed the picture immensely. It's a lovely bit of big-tent, old school Hollywood storytellling, with a compelling story, a great script, brilliant performances all-round (even Bale, whose gurns, yelps and tics somehow feel right for the character) and some impressive touches from director David O. Russell. I loved the interpolation of a (real) documentary made by HBO on crack addiction in Lowell, and I admire his intelligence in hiring a filming unit purely for the boxing sequences, employing exactly the same equipment and techniques that would have been used for HBO fight-night broadcasts in the early-to-mid-nineties.
Back again to the performances, as mentioned above Bale is bearably good, and Wahlberg is a sturdy straight man, carrying the film's emotional core. Amy Adams is impressively feisty (though her character is much better drawn than a standard romantic foil in the first place) and Melissa Leo thoroughly deserves her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination as a kind of Irish-American Carmela Soprano. The coven of sisters she rules over are also superbly grim, and while we're making Sopranos references it's also worth giving a shout to Frank Renzulli, one of that series' formative writers, making a big-screen debut as a Wahlberg's Legitimate Businessman manager.
So as you can see, I liked it. It's accessible and entertaining, even if it doesn't have that watch-it-time-and-time-again factor.