Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 16 January 2011
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Another true story, this one features boxing brothers from a dysfunctional Lowell, Massachusetts family who battle the consequences of fame, notoriety, addiction, the law, and each other.
The brothers’ mom and manager Alice (Melissa Leo) is a mother of nine grown children although she still runs all of their lives. Her two sons, Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward are in different phases of boxing careers. Dicky once fought Sugar Ray Leonard to a claim-to-fame victory – now he’s a crack addict. Micky is a champion wannabe that hates being called a stepping stone – a perpetual sparring partner to help other fighters move up the competitive ladder while he stays behind.
Alice has seven daughters who make up a kind of family gang that protect her as well as form a cheering section for Dicky. Like a pack of blond, hairstyle-challenged pitbulls, the sisters cluster around Alice, forming a vacant, unattractive chorus line. Then Micky gets a girlfriend.
Charlene is a college dropout and bartender who catches Micky’s eye as well as hell from his protective, female-heavy family. Micky, tired of being second banana signs with a different manager during one of Dicky’s imprisonments, and lines up fights for the first time without family interference. Charlene takes on all of the women in Micky’s family, especially Alice, defending Micky as a fighter in his own right, one deserving of recognition and respect.
Micky embarks on a solo career with no Dicky and no Alice; only Charlene remains by his side. As he begins to win, Dicky is released from prison (he’s had an HBO special on cracks addicts made about him but hates what he sees when he views it). Alice wants to manage Micky again, with Dicky along as a sparring partner, just like in the bad old days. Micky is confused and appears to give in to their demands, causing Charlene and trainer Mickey O’Keefe (playing himself) to leave him high and dry with a championship at stake.
Micky must try to appease all of the warring sides within his own circle of family and friends in order to successfully train for his shot at the welterweight title. I’m sure you know without reading the brothers’ life story how the final showdown will play out, but the zig zag to the finish line is a worthwhile tension-release for both Micky and the viewer who’s shared his history of hard knocks and also-rans.
Mark Wahlberg seems right as home as a fighter, hardly a stretch for the Boston native from the mean streets. Melissa Leo is as tough as any prizefighter as Alice, the fast-talking manager/mom who can’t see the devastation her eldest son causes the family and himself. Christian Bale burns up the screen as the addict who used to be a contender. Amy Adams displays a hard-as-nails veneer as the outspoken, take-no-prisoners Charlene, who immediately puts Micky’s madhouse in order for the first time in his life.
Director David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees) navigates through predictable waters with both grit and humor. Yes this is a true story, but even so it follows a pattern that we’ve seen countless times, ending with an important fight that proves a lot of unstated truths. What makes it crackle is Bale’s intense immersion into his character.
Everyone loves an underdog and here we are given two for a double helping of triumph and redemption. There’s no particular hero, just a shared journey to success despite a well-meaning family that can be both the greatest advocate and biggest obstacle to the talent that emerges in their midst.
Then again, things usually do become less civil when the gloves come off.