I wasn't really much interested in this, as it looked like quite the average sports movie, although the fact that it is directed by David O. Russell made me slightly more interested. Then it started getting good reviews, and started appearing on some best-of-the-year lists, and its performances are talked about, so finally all of that tipped the scales for me. Plus there's not much else I want to see.
So we open with Christain Bale as Dicky and Mark Whalberg as Micky, two brothers, walking through their hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, which looks a trifle economically depressed, to put it kindly. It's 1993. A title informs us that this is based on a true story, although it's a true story that took three screenwriters and three other folks getting a "story by" credit, making you wonder--"I thought they said it was a true story?" I have learned from my screenwriter friend that this means the "story by" folks rewrote the script of the ones who get the "screenplay by" credit.
Anyway, HBO is making a documentary about Micky! He was a boxer and his big claim to fame, which he passes nary a moment without mentioning, is knocking out Sugar Ray Leonard in one fight way back. He's also the trainer of his younger brother, Micky, who he "taught everything he knows." We join Micky waiting, with the HBO crew, for Dicky to show up to train him. But Dicky is in the crack house.
Micky meets Amy Adams as Charlene. Before he dates her, he goes to Vegas for a fight. At this point his mother, Melissa Leo as Alice, is managing his career, and Dicky is training him. His opponent is sick, so Micky has to fight someone 20 pounds heavier than himself, or no one gets paid. He just gets pummeled. When he gets home and takes Charlene out, he takes her to the next city over to avoid seeing anyone who will know him, he's so ashamed of losing the fight. When Charlene asks "Do you really think your family is looking out for you?" that's when he kisses her--he's obviously been waiting for someone to come along and voice anti-family thoughts he can't express himself.
Because Micky's family is one of those "family is the most important thing" families where you have to wonder if the reason they're so important is they supply an reliable cast of victims. Dicky and Micky are the only boys, and Alice the mother dotes on them, but especially Dicky. The seven sisters comprise a resplendent vision of white trash, and are often used as comic relief, a task they rise to with gusto. Nevertheless, Micky's family is fiercely protective of their closeness [if not of Micky] and will viciously defend against anyone or anything that will break them up. Soon Charlene has convinced Micky that he needs to leave the family and train with someone else, which no one in the family takes very well. From here, with a few wrinkles, the movie follows the established sports movie formula.
When it was over, my friend turned to me and asked "What would you think about that if it wasn't a true story?" Which turns out to be a pertient question, as the fact that it is "true" allows one to accept a lot of things that otherwise would seem just a tad too pat or predicatable. Certainly touches like the seven sisters would seem like a cruel and ridiculous contrivance if it weren't true [as far as we know], as well as the generally Rocky-esque arc of the story. So he liked it far less than I did, and by the end of the next day was quite negative on it.
Me, not so much. I responded to the whole aspect of having to get away from one's family, who do not--and CANNOT--understand why one would need to get some distance from them. I also always find drug addiction stories [which makes up a considerable portion of this film] compelling. And the direction is energetic and gives the story a great deal of momentum. And the performances are quite good. Whalberg is customarily good, Bale is quite good, in a way one kind of expects, but his performance is completely lived-in and one isn't sitting there watching him perform, but is able to accept is character. Adams is convincing--and made me realize how much her simpering character in Julie and Julia had made me hate her. However, Melissa Leo, who I hadn't seen in a film before, really runs away with her part without a trace of winking or knowingness.
So I think this movie may have the same problem as The King's Speech in that it may just be a tiny bit TOO pat and perfect, with every single little hair smoothed into place. The difference is that The King's Speech is a story we haven't heard a million times, whereas this film is a variation on movies we are very familiar with, despite being executed with quality and gusto. So mostly it depends on your tolerance for that. I found enough engaging about it through the destructive family and drug addiction angles, but you, like my friend, may just feel it's too familiar and ever-so pat. For the most part it's a well-made crowd-pleaser, something your mom will just love, and if it ends up winning a ton of Oscars, I wouldn't be at all surprised.
If you like this kind of thing, it's really good. If you're tired of this kind of thing, it's more of the same, though done well.