WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
A total knockout as a piece of well-made B-movie grit Fighting focuses on two men living on separate edges of society who come together to make a killing in the forbidden world of bare-knuckle fighting. When con man Harvey Boarden spots raw street-fighting talent in the form of small-town dude Shawn MacArthur the two team up by entering Shawn in the potentially lucrative underground circuit a place where rich men bet on young brawlers who battle like pit bulls unleashed. With success comes complications however and Shawn ends up fighting not only for money but his whole future — which suddenly is very much at stake.
WHO’S IN IT?
Rising young heartthrob Channing Tatum’s (Step Up) raw star power blasts through the screen as Shawn a role that thankfully calls for more complexity than just acting with his fists. Opposite Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard’s (Hustle & Flow) Harvey he steps up his game and the two play off each other with ease searching for ways to lift what is basically an action vehicle into something more emotionally involving and Rocky-esque. Certainly the highlights are still the intense and brutal fight sequences but because Tatum invests more than just one note into his portrayal of a guy trying to work his way up from the streets into a better life we are behind him all the way. In a case of a Zulay playing another Zulay Zulay Henao is sweet and appealing as a girl Shawn starts dating between bouts while Brian White is menacing and slippery as Evan Hailey a key rival and protégé of Shawn’s own estranged father. Also of note is Altagracia Guzman who has a couple of very funny scenes as Zulay’s disapproving grandmother.
The heart-stopping realism of the bare-knuckle fighting is refreshingly free of cinematic trickery and CGI assistance. It’s raw and packs real punch particularly during a sequence in which Shawn faces a formidable martial arts opponent but also in the climactic bout with Hailey. And fortunately there are some nice twists along the way that keep this flick from drifting into complete predictability. Director Dito Montiel who previously made the Sundance award-winner A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (also with Tatum) knows the New York street scene well.
Although richly entertaining the film could have benefitted from a deeper look into this forbidden world of underground human fighting which hasn’t been explored much on-screen beyond the very unique take of David Fincher’s acerbic Fight Club.
Aside from the powerful fisticuffs on constant display it has to be Shawn’s first encounter with Zulay’s grandmother when he arrives unannounced for dinner. It’s priceless stuff serving to humanize him and ramp his score way up on the likeability meter.
Give credit to the filmmakers for the simplicity of the name. Fighting tells you everything you need to know.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Multiplex. Like any boxing match it’s more fun to watch with a crowd.
Structured as a flashback told by successful writer Dito (Robert Downey Jr.)--as he prepares to go home for the first time in 15 years to make amends with his ailing father Monty (Chazz Palminteri)--A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints follows teenage Dito (Shia LaBeouf) and his restless aimless friends as they cruise the streets of Astoria looking for something to care about. Over the course of one sweltering summer Dito finds himself caught between two possible outcomes for his life. If like his troubled boyhood friend Antonio (Channing Tatum) Dito stays loyal to his neighborhood and his family his future will most likely be a lot like his present--gritty violent and provincial. But if he lets himself believe in his new friend Mike's (Martin Compston) dreams of success and freedom in far-away California he'll break his father's heart. One of the movie's greatest strengths is its excellent cast. LaBeouf who's been getting good reviews since his days on the Disney Channel's Even Stevens clearly has the chops for mature drama as well. Dito's conflicting instincts--fight or flee?--inform LaBeouf's entire performance whether he's professing his love for feisty Laurie (Melonie Diaz) threatening flamboyant entrepreneur Frank (Anthony De Sando who brings some welcome humor to the film) or melting down during a tumultuous kitchen scene. Palminteri's blustering affection makes you understand why Dito both loves and is smothered by his father and Tatum is all bravado as Antonio who's been abused for so long that he clings to Dito's family like it's his own. Veterans Downey and Dianne Wiest (as Dito's long-suffering mother Flori) turn in brief but memorable performances as well. Given his pedigree as a writer it's no surprise that Montiel's script is powerful and realistic filled with chaos and pathos. But for a first-time director he shows a remarkably sure hand behind the camera too. Once you wrap your head around the fact that a movie set in 1986 can be considered a period piece you realize how well Montiel has created a sense of place--you can practically smell the sweat and dirt and greasy food that permeate Dito's world. All of that said A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints isn't perfect--it's not too hard to guess where the plot is headed (Dito himself spills some of the details up front) and some of the violence and language strays into the realm of gratuitousness instead of "evocative detail." But as an examination of one boy's pivotal decision about whether to take the path less traveled by it's both thoughtful and resonant.