The gloves are off for Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward, the real-life welterweight from Massachusetts whose career was troubled not by lack of guts or talent, but by the in-fighting in his own corner. Trained by his crack-addicted brother – former champ Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) – and managed by his domineering mother (Melissa Leo), Micky is going nowhere... until his ballsy new girlfriend (Amy Adams) urges him to break the family ties. A labour of love for producer-star Wahlberg, this hard-fought biopic shows plenty of crowd-pleasing class with its combination of sharp directorial jabs and eye-catching performances - particularly from Bale and Leo who won Best Supporting Oscars.
David O Russell
Though David O. Russell's first film in six years will draw inevitable comparisons to Raging Bull, it's impossible to ignore the influence of Scorsese's other great ode to working-class brotherhood, Mean Streets.
Just as it's impossible to ignore the relentless display of googly-eyed scene-jacking from Christian Bale that dominates the entire movie.
Poor Mark Wahlberg. After struggling for years to get the story of boxing footnote Micky Ward up on the big screen and training just as long and hard to play the part, he finally gets to top the bill... only to be upstaged by his on-screen loved ones.
Actually, that's a bit harsh, since Wahlberg's Micky is the one who must take the emotional and physical punishment like a man, while Bale's half-brother Dicky and their trashy mum Alice (a bleach-blonde Leo) have all the fun dishing it out.
Amy Adams completes the topline card as Micky's tough-cookie girlfriend Charlene, making the most of the chance to ditch the nice-girl persona she's been shackled with since earning her first Oscar nomination as the pregnant cutie of Junebug back in 2005.
The story begins in 1993 as Dicky - the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts, after once putting Sugar Ray Leonard on the canvas - talks of making a comeback while a documentary crew film his crack-fuelled life.
Delusions aside, his drug habit also makes him an unreliable trainer. Coupled with Alice's injudicious management, it's the biggest obstacle to Micky's boxing dream.
Everyone else can see it, but only after a serious mismatch and a bruising encounter with the law that sees Dicky wind up in jail does Micky realise that blind loyalty is getting him nowhere.
But even with a fearless champion of his own in Charlene and Dicky out of the picture, nothing Micky faces in the ring is as formidable as Alice and the seven-headed, acid-spitting Hydra that is his sisters.
Although tactically limited, Micky built his reputation on his ability to find hidden strength whenever his cause seemed lost. Thus, by drawing obvious parallels with Micky's emotional reserves, the film makes the distinction between boxer and fighter.
That's as subtle as it gets - or needs to be. This is a story about guts: having 'em, trusting 'em, spilling 'em.
And with a shoot lasting only 33 days, director Russell clearly never had time to forget it. There's a compelling rawness and kinetic energy to every scene, both inside the ring and out.
Occasionally it all gets a little too overwrought. Amidst so many award-worthy performances, Bale's third show of crash-dieted commitment (after The Machinist and Rescue Dawn) comes perilously close to grandstanding. But it's great to watch.
And like most of Russell's production, it's a technical knockout.