| Director David O. Russell ("Three Kings," "Flirting with Disaster" and "Spanking the Monkey") takes a dysfunctional family feud to a whole new level in this sports drama based on a true story.
The opening song of "How You Like Me Now?" sets the mood for this inspirational look at an underdog American boxer from the blue-collar environs of Lowell, Mass. "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg from "The Departed," " The Perfect Storm" and "Boogie Nights") is a junior welterweight pro boxer known for a thunderous left hook and his ability to take punishment in the ring. His tactic of wearing down an opponent and then going on the offensive with a rapid succession of head-body-head punches is the key to his victories. He is trained by his older half-brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale from "The Dark Knight"), a former welterweight known as "The Pride of Lowell," who went the distance in 1978 against Sugar Ray Leonard.
An HBO camera crew is following Dicky around Lowell doing a documentary. He thinks it is about him making a sports comeback. It is really about his addiction to crack cocaine.
While training for his next bout, Micky works on a street paving crew during the day to earn money. Micky and Dicky’s domineering mother, Alice (Melissa Leo from "Conviction" and "Welcome to the Rileys"), serves as fight manager and promoter. Her seven lazy daughters, whose nicknames include Little Alice, Pork, Tar, Red Dog and Beaver, seem to always be around smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, watching TV or spreading insulting gossip.
The rather shy and insecure Micky, spurred on by his father, George (Jack McGee), works up the courage to flirt with sexy bartender Charlene (Amy Adams from "Julie & Julia," "Enchanted" and "Junebug"). They become a romantic couple after Micky returns from taking a beating in Atlantic City against a much heavier brawler.
The movie focuses on the family dynamics rather than the action within the ring. These fully developed characters chew the scenery in one memorable scene after another. This unconventional masterpiece builds in intensity to a powerful climax.
Viewers who stay the course will reap the benefits of falling in love with one of the best movies of the year.
Boxing aficionados will enjoy the cameo appearances of Don Dunphy, George Foreman, Roy Jones Jr., Emanuel Steward, Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, Michael Buffer and Sugar Ray Leonard. Trivia buffs will be happy to know that Art Ramalho’s gym shown in the movie is the actual place in Lowell where Micky trained before fights and is still a functioning workout venue today.
The cinematography borrows from the HBO style of covering boxing as the camera alternates between the sparring in the ring and the onlookers reacting at ringside. The well-chosen musical selections in the soundtrack include: "Here I Go Again," "I Started a Joke," "Can’t You Hear Me Knocking" and "Paint the Town Red." The movie expertly inserts archival footage and the real-life Micky and Dicky appear at the conclusion over the end credits.
Bale deserves to win Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of this screwed-up clown with a flaky personality. He recently was honored in this category by The National Board of Review. Leo and Adams should square off for an award as Best Supporting Actress. Art imitates life for Wahlberg in the role of a lifetime. He grew up in Dorchester, a similar poor working class district of Boston. He was the youngest of nine children and his parents divorced when he was 11. His understated performance as the little brother tired of playing second fiddle, and demanding the respect and admiration for his triumphs, is right on the money.
This knockout cinematic sensation once again proves that true stories always make the best movies. This is a real contender in several other Oscar categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. If you are looking for an emotional high and the warm feelings you took away from the Rocky Balboa movies, this must be right at the top of your list of films to see before 2010 comes to a close.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"