Some projects are just labors of love. You need to take your time, work them, adjust, adapt, sell, re-sell, re-package and sell again – all without selling out. Mark Wahlberg’s devotion and love to re-enacting the story of Mickey Ward is obvious, with the time and energy he took to salvage this picture time and again to get the story out is endearing; the people he surrounded himself with create a lovely picture of the darkness, despair and grittiness of Lowell, Ma. Envision the film as a painting – the darkness of Dickey (Christian Bale) combined with the lightness of Charlene (Amy Adams) and all the colorful (language and otherwise) of Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) all painted with the masterful strokes of a brush by director David O. Russell.
But none of it would happen without the canvas – in the case, the script.
The script is a lovely rendition of what true life is like in southie, in Fitchburg and Lawrence, Lowell and Brockton. There is a certain about of intelligence written into the lack of intelligence; there is a purity that comes with the portrayal of a class of individuals who find education a hindrance, are willing and able to look away from the local crack houses, and find drinking in the afternoon to be a cultural norm. The dialogue is straight out of the worst bars and establishments along the Charles; in fact, it has been about 3 years since I have heard that level of cursing in such a coarse and rapid succession. To write such true and honest dialogue has to come from someone who either experienced these towns on their own, or came from such an arena.
The colorful matriarch of the family, Alice, played in all its trashy goodness by Melissa Leo. Strong and stubborn, proud and always playing the victim, she created a vivid character that was surprisingly and tender at just the right moments, and cruel and vicious with a balance of rash temper as anyone with a scotch/irish mother can attest to. Though it does take 3/4 of the film before you see her true intentions and spirit come out, she does find this amazing way to keep you enraptured even when she is at her most volatile.
But she could not hold a candle to the Charlene portrayed by Amy Adams. Smarter and opportunistic, she seizes what opportunities in life that come her way, without being a leech. coherent yet aggressive, it was a wonder to see Amy Adams play a character with such a “dirt under the fingernails” mentality, a girl who as been around the block, and can see you coming from a mile away, and knows what the end game is before you even say word one. Plus, it seems she got a Phd in Boston Swear-slang before the film began – because I haven’t heard cursing like that from a girl since my old commute used to take me down 93 to Quincy in 100 degree heat without AC. Yes, I was cursing too, or being colorful with my language as my grandmother used to say.
Christian Bale as Dickey Englund. My God. The dedication to emulating his speech, his words, his mannerism and style – it was like watching someone dance with their mind, body and words all at the same time, while creating a character arc that is vastly different from beginning to end. Like watching child grow into himself – that was the development and movement within the character. It was a thrill to watch – thats all I can say.
All of these elements are combined on the palet and painted onto the canvas by David O. Russell. In a lovely balance of characters and story, he did aptly to get the information out, and in watching this, I think back to another greater-Boston based film, as there are a lot of similarities: Good Will Hunting. As in both, there is an excellent story, and superb supporting character (Robin Williams won Best Supporting for GWH) and had a ton of nominations – but it just wasnt ready for prime time. While David O. Russell’s day will come – this is not the day.