It's so hard to make a boxing film that really stands out anymore, so thankfully, this one didn't really try and did something I respect even more: it's just a damn solid, well-made, and very entertaining film, the occasional predictable moments or cliches aside.
If I had to pick something about it (besides the above) that does set it apart, it is the acting, but you probably may have that one figured out (unless you ignore reviews, the Oscars, or internet message boards). The odd thing here though, is that, even though this is about (part of) the story of Micky Ward, the supporting characters (especially Dicky), are such scene stealers and far more memorable, that you'd think the movie is really about them.
In a way, this is true. It's mostly about Micky, but more about the role of those aroudn Micky, and how they shape and affect his life, especially his crackhead brother Dicky, trashy, overbearing, selfish mother Alice, and his seven equally trashy sisters. Besides being an underdog story, this film shows the bond of family (no matter how messed up), as well as the effects of being washed up and addicted to drugs.
This is a story that could have been told all kinds of ways, and in David O. Russell's hands, it plays essentially like a docudrama. In fact, some of this is so well done and convincing that it seems closer to truth than fiction. It probably helps that locals are used to play themselves or people they know, and that this was all shot on location. Lowell, as shown here, is not really a place I wanna see anytime soon.
As I said already, the acting is great, Wahlberg is actually the most low-key and toned down. Maybe that's a good thing. It makes the character less interesting, but everyone else is so over the top and showy that we need a more subtle performance to anchor things. Leo and Bale are tremendous, and their Oscars were well deserved, but they may have laid it on just a tad too thick. Adams is also great, especially since she lays against type, and succeeds.
There's not a whole lot new here, but this is a really hard film to dislike, It's pretty solid, but not air tight. They could have made Ward a bit more interesting, and maybe included his trilogy of fights with Gatti, but apparently they are planning a sequel that will focus solely on just that, so there you go. This is very real, but maybe too real, too painful to watch at times. That's not to say that it's unwatchable though, because I certainly was never bored, and always found at least one thing to enjoy frame by frame.
Go check this out. I give it a B+