Christian Bale again suffers for his art, here portraying a character physically and emotionally as different from his other roles, “Machinist” notwithstanding, that on occasion, it is difficult to truly believe it is him.
Mark Wahlberg takes on the less showy role of Welterweight “Irish” Mickey Ward, an aspiring boxer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Living in the shadow of his “coulda been a contender” and “Pride of Lowell” brother Dicky Eklund, who lost to Sugar Ray Leonard but not before he allegedly knocked him down on the canvas.
Eklund does not take the loss well and when we first meet the extended family in 1993, he is at a low ebb, addicted to Crack but just managing to train Mickey as he sets him on his own long road to boxing fame and fortune.
Mickey comes from a large family with a bevy of shrill sisters and a perma blond matriarch in the form of Oscar winning Melissa Leo as Alice Eklund. Tough as old boots and fiercely protective of her brood, her long suffering husband George Ward (McGee) is merely along for the ride and to keep the peace as best he can.
Following a disastrous fight that he should never have fought, events spiral out of control and Eklund finds himself in prison with Mickey forced to make hard choices for his stalled career.
This is a very effective and believable film based on true events. The period setting is good and the acting on display is first rate by all the supporting actors. Bale is astonishingly good, a bundle of ticks, constantly mugging for the documentary camera that follows him around, his lost dreams permanently etched on his face. He is constantly only seconds away from his come back that everyone, apart from himself, knows will never come.
A later scene where he is forced to watch “his Hollywood moment” is impressive in so many ways, realization slowly dawning upon him, his bravado ebbing away, as he accepts that without real change, his life is effectively over.
Wahlberg is solid as Mickey, adequate but no more and is really the only character, along with girlfriend Charlene (Amy Mcadams), that the audience may actually sympathise with. Mother Alice and her brood are portrayed as monumentally blinkered and ignorant, certainly their acting, especially Leo, is enough to set your teeth on edge and may instill a desire to lob anything handy at the screen, whenever they are around.
Eklund too presents an unlovable figure, he clearly has the biggest character arc to follow and Bale makes no mistakes in sketching him and remains believable throughout. The boxing scenes are well filmed, Wahlberg certainly looks the part and at no time do the bouts appear fake.
The story is very linear and follows a well worn path, on occasion you almost miss the Rocky theme music during the training montages, which are now almost a cliche but are necessary for the story.
There is a lot of shouting and realistic swearing, which is entirely in keeping with the film but on occasion the film does not make for an easy and enjoyable watch. If you have an aversion to boxing this may not be for you, whilst not “about” boxing, the film does spend a fair bit of time in and around the ring.
Realistic, superbly acted with two Oscar winning turns, this is Rocky for the new generation but stripped of all glamour and based on a true story, this is stirring stuff indeed.
Recommended as long as the subject matter interests.