A Fighting Man
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Starring: Dominic Purcell, Famke Janssen, James Caan, Adam Beach, Louis Gossett Jr.
Directed by: Damian Lee
Running time: 88 minutes
Movie review: A Fighting Man a boxing film
The boxing film A Fighting Man stars with a scene of a mother reading a book to a young boy about King Arthur and Lancelot and the Red Knight, who is a new one on me. It fades into a slow-motion scene of a bout and the title Round 5. What’s going on here?
By the time things resolve themselves, a mere 88 minutes later, A Fighting Man has taken us on a tour of just about every boxing movie ever made: It’s Rocky with a subtext, Raging Bull with religion, The Fighter without the sisters. “Once more into the fray,” says the hero, a boxer named Sailor O’Connor (Dominic Purcell, speaking with the husky croak of Sylvester Stallone), and he’s not kidding.
Filmmaker Damian Lee frames the film as Rounds 5 to 10 of a fight — the first five rounds may have involved Lancelot — between Sailor, a wily but lead-footed veteran who has never been knocked down in 63 bouts, and flashy newcomer King Solomon (Izaak Smith) about whom, surprisingly, no one says, “he’s mine.”
We then flash back to the reasons each man has for the fight. Every clinch evokes a memory: Sailor wants to send his dying mother (Sheila McCarthy) — a woman who has lost her sense of religion to the extent where she can say, “if there is a God, it is a monster” — on a final trip to Ireland. King, who has cast aside his old ways of drug use and has quit his other job as a porn film actor, is starting a new life with a pregnant wife Pet (Jenessa Grant) and needs to make money to provide for them. “I want to give it something it can be proud of,” says Peg of her child, but you know what she means.
It’s a brutal five rounds, filled with cuts, bloody eyes and one event I’ve never seen before in a boxing film, a scene where a fighter is hit in the belly and poops in his pants. “He lost his mud,” says a trainer, alerting us to the news that this is a common enough occurrence to have a name.
At the edges are a host of characters who often surround these squared-circle dramas: the corner man (a dignified James Caan) who urges Sailor not to risk his life; a trainer (an electric Louis Gossett Jr.) who is guiding King to a promising career; a sleazy promoter (a brutally effective Adam Beach) of the type who haunted the edges of such classics as Requiem for a Heavyweight and The Harder They Fall; a priest (Kim Coates) who visits each cast member in turn, dispensing forgiveness; and finally the mysterious Diane (Famke Janssen), who arrives in the later rounds and plays a key role in Sailor’s self-lacerating return to the ring.
Filmed in the sleazy half-light of broken-down gyms and blue-collar neighbourhoods — you half expect to see Rocky himself run by to the sound of that familiar theme music — A Fighting Man just brushes across its overwhelming number of themes. Lee has drawn nicely underplayed performances from everyone, and there’s probably an affecting movie somewhere in all its stories. As it is, A Fighting Man is a boxing film with a particular problem: It can’t fill its broad canvas.