This movie features an amazing, true-life story brought to life by incredible acting performances across the board. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo won Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for their respective portrayals as the main character’s brother and mom. It was nominated for several other awards as well, including Best Picture, and it definitely deserves the recognition that it got.
This film is based on the true story of boxer Mickey Ward, who trains with his older half-brother, Dicky Ecklund, himself once the boxing “pride of Lowell”, and who is managed by his very headstrong, controlling and somewhat delusional mother. He also has a total of seven sisters and half sisters running around, appearing to all live with his mother still, and generally getting involved in his and everybody else’s business. (They take after their mother). Mickey O’Keefe, Mickey Ward’s mentor in real life, plays himself in this film.
This movie emphasizes the importance of family, but it also shows how hard it can be to have to be pressing on, trying to achieve something without the support of your family, or in fact despite their efforts to be involved. Ignoring concerns for his well-being, Mickey’s mother guilts him into agreeing to an unfair fight against a much bigger guy by saying, “Don’t forget, you don’t fight, nobody gets paid,” and she are her posse of daughters are incredibly threatened and almost territorial when outsiders try to offer real help. Mickey loves and relies on his family, but he’s also damaged by them.
Mickey’s mother is a portrait of denial. She refuses to believe that her precious Dicky does anything untoward, even though she consistently has to go drag him away from the crack house. Dicky aides her in ignoring the truth, but ultimately I think she would just rather not deal with it. When she reacts in shock to an HBO special on crack addition featuring her eldest, Mickey says, “I don’t know what to tell ya. You pretend like you don’t know what’s going on, he’s been doin’ this for years!” After a brawl that she incited breaks out, she acts bewildered, saying “what’s going on?” Is she really that oblivious, or is this just how she copes? It’s clearly not healthy. She also displays an obvious favoritism towards her children, leading an exasperated and hurt Mickey to shout, at one point, “I thought you were my mother too!’ Heartbreaking.
Dicky, too, is in denial for much of the movie about his own life. But he, unlike his mother, is forced to face reality. The confrontation on the porch between himself and Charlene, (Mickey’s girlfriend), is one of the best parts of the movie. Charlene admits, “I’ve ruined a lotta opportunities, but I’m tryin’ to do somethin’ better now, and so is Micky.” Dicky replies, “And so am I.” THAT’S why this is a great movie, because it doesn’t hold back from showing what a terrible mess Dicky has made of his life, but it also doesn’t end that way, with him wallowing in a drugged-out oblivion. Once he recognizes the extent to which he’s messed everything up, he really tries hard to change and make amends.
As Christians, we are told:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. –Ephesians 5:3-4
Those are very high standards, (not even a hint of wrongdoing!), and for most of us it is probably a constant struggle just like an addict has a constant, daily battle to not return to their old ways. And maybe sometimes we fall spectacularly short from that goal, and are even in denial about it, reminding ourselves and others that we’re somehow better than everyone else. But, once the truth becomes clear, the course of action does, too. We shouldn’t hesitate to correct our behavior when we realize we are wrong, even if coming back from all of our mistakes seems like an insurmountable task. Take inspiration from Dicky Eklund.
Mickey’s character and his struggles are plenty inspiring too, of course. Look at all the crap with his family he has to work through, on top of the challenge of staying in prime boxing shape and winning fights. It would be so easy for him to become bitter, give up, or remain cut off from his dysfunctional family. But he doesn’t.
This is a fantastic movie all-around. The R rating is because of the language, drug use, and violence. It all fits with the story, and I don’t think any of the negative content is glorified. I absolutely recommend it.