Based on a true story, Mickey Ward was a boxer in the early 80’s. He was the half-brother of Dicky Eklund, his mentor and trainer, who eventually drifted into a life of drugs and sorrow. This “documentary-style” film is nominated for 7 Oscars and includes some outstanding performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Mark Wahlberg and an entire cast of mostly unknowns.
When we are first introduced to Mickey (Wahlberg), he is really a background character, a man who is overshadowed by the older Dicky (Bale). HBO is filming a documentary of Dicky’s now infamous knockdown of Sugar Ray Leonard early in his career and they are following him as he helps train Mickey for an upcoming fight. As the movie unfolds, Dicky’s life spirals out of control as his drug addiction leads him into crime. Meanwhile, Mickey is left trying to figure out his life and future and with a family that is relying on him. With his life in limbo, he meets Charlene (Adams) and she helps him see that his family is dragging him down.
This movie is an excellent case study of how 2 different performers can excel on totally different levels. Bale is excellent as the drug addicted Dicky. He relishes the limelight and his moment that has been so well documented is the only thing he has to lean on. Meanwhile Wahlberg gives a very understated performance as the quiet yet dedicated Mickey, struggling to find his own way when so many riding on his coattails. The only problem I have with Wahlberg’s performance (and as I have said many times, I’m not a big fan) is that Wahlberg is almost TOO good looking for this role. Where everyone else in the film are very “small town” looking, Wahlberg looks out of place with his good looks and muscles. Where Bale excels and looks almost gaunt, Wahlberg is too pretty for this movie. And then there’s Amy Adams who SHOULD look out of place but is perfect for her role as Mickey’s new girlfriend. Adams nails the right amount of strength and sympathy of this character and breaths life into what could have been a somewhat generic role.
With Bale & Adams leading the charge, the real strength of this movie are the bit players that make it seem almost too real. Melissa Leo is the mother who refuses to believe either of her sons can do any wrong. A pivotal scene in this film happens between her and Bale and it’s heartbreaking. Also Jack McGee as the father is spot on and then there are several actresses who play the Eklund daughters who are also perfect in their roles as the protective sisters. I actually thought they hired real people to play these roles, that’s how good they are!
This film is an excellent case study of 2 lives going in separate directions and the directing and editing is very good. But as far as its Oscar chances? I’d say it’s not gonna win Best Picture but I predict Bale & Leo should take an Oscar home. I imagine there will be many people supporting it come Oscar time, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to beat several of the other Best Picture nominees, even if it IS the dark horse in the mix.
Overall Rating: A-