Mark Wahlberg is the titular Stuart Long, the real-life figure whose path took him from amateur boxing to a misjudged stab at making it as an actor in Hollywood before a post-motorcycle accident religious conversion pushed him towards Catholicism and the seminary. Unfortunately, Long succumbed at the age of 50 to inclusion body myositis—a rare, degenerative muscle disorder—keeping up his religious duties towards the end of his life even as his physical capabilities were gradually taken from him.
You can see the appeal of Long’s story to the Catholic mindset, which puts a great deal of stock in redemption through religious devotion and suffering as penance. Wahlberg, the star and producer who worked to mount the film for years, no doubt sees parallels between his own life and Long’s. Like Wahlberg, Long is portrayed as a self-centred tearaway who found grace later in life, although Long’s indiscretions don’t exactly match Wahlberg’s history of racist violence.
Which is a problem if the viewer who cannot or does not separate the art from the artist. We must ask if this story is about Long’s redemption or Wahlberg’s rehabilitation—or at least the rehabilitation of his image, a kind of line in the sand of history separating Marky Mark from Mark Wahlberg.