Who's In It: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee
The Basics: The true story of boxer Micky Ward (Wahlberg), younger brother of former welterweight-turned-crack-addict-and-criminal Dickie Eklund (Bale). Ward overcomes living in the shadow of his brother's temporary fame (he fought Sugar Ray Leonard once), then he overcomes living in the shadow of his brother's addiction and downfall and his domineering manager mother. It's the movies' favorite kind of boxing story, the one where the underdog learns to believe in himself and make good. But it's also no sentimental crowd-pleaser. It's more astringent than something like Rocky and that's because Rocky never had to contend with a nine-headed hydra of shrieking, combative, mind-scrambling family members.
What's The Deal: To be more specific, the boxing in this movie seems, at times, almost beside the point. It's clear that Wahlberg trained a lot to play this guy, but the movie could have been about a chef or NASCAR driver or conceptual artist. It's mostly a drama about how the people you love the most can be the worst possible thing in your way, the biggest obstacle to getting what you need in life. Don't let anyone tell you it's an inspirational story of family bonds or brotherly love or believing in yourself. If anything, it's a blueprint for getting out from under the crushing weight of people who only think they've got your best interests at heart.
What It's Also About: Delusion. it begins with Eklund bouncing through the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, followed by a camera crew "making a movie on me for HBO," he shouts to anyone who'll listen. That movie turned out to be a documentary titled High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell. But it's watching the rest of the family's eager, aggressive participation and uni-minded devotion to being "something" that would have made them prime candidates for a laughable reality show had this story taken place right now instead of the early 1990s.
Hate Boxing? Go See It Anyway For: Melissa Leo, as the most difficult-to-love parent alive, for Amy Adams making you forget that she knows what the words "sweet" and "adorable" mean and for Christian Bale as a gaunt crackhead. You could believe he was really smoking the stuff to prepare for the role, that's how horrible and wired he is. And though Wahlberg is the star, he moves through the film with more restraint and silence than anyone. He stands back and lets them do all the shouting, fighting and shaking.
Best Supporting Sisters: You don't know the names Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg Dendrie Taylor, Kate B. O'Brien or Jenna Lamia, but together they leave an indelible, deranged stamp on this movie as Ward's sister-army. Their insanely hair-intensive scenes alone are worth the price of the ticket.