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The West Wing
A nothing-to-lose outsider is taken under wing by a street-wise coach, and enters NYCís underground world of street-fighting, where the riches are big Ė but so are the hits.
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I'm in the middle of watching Fighting (bad title in my opinion - a little too on the nose) and I'm wondering who the heck this director is. This is a film loaded with story-lines that we've seen in past films but never in this style. I was completely impressed with the way this film was made as I see that this is a filmmaker loaded with talent.
Dito Montiel is the director's name. A former front man for various popular New York bands who turned to writing novels based on stories of his own life. Now he's taking those novels and making them into films. His first film, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006), was not a commercial hit but opened eyes in the industry and won many awards in various film festivals. The lead character was a guy named Dito Montiel (there was no reason to change the name) who believes that Saints have guided him out of his rough upbringing. It's his only way to rationalize that he was the one that 'got out', while his friends either ended up dead or in jail for life. Robert Downey Jr. plays the director and Shia LeBouef (before he was on the radar screen) plays the younger version of himself. Both tremendous performances that really set their present careers to where they are now. Everyone working in Hollywood saw this film and everyone was extremely impressed.
Which brings us to Fighting. This is a curious film because like the film The Soloist, which opened the same weekend, Fighting tries to be Hollywood while also being Independent in heart at the same time. It gives us the romantic subplot and the great 'fighting' scenes, but this is not what the film is about. It's really about two guys who realize that they are really nobodies in the large island of Manhattan and are perhaps too sweet and kind for their own good. So the sad hustler and the younger good-looking stud from the south form a bond and attempt to get out of this mad town. Does this plot sound familiar?
If you've seen the Oscar winning film Midnight Cowboy (1969) it would. Fighting is basically the same story except that the fights are this guy's 'trick' to make money whereas Cowboy was about making money through sex. There are both selling themselves for entertainment and the more they do it, the more they sink into nothingness, while others make much more money using them. They might as well be dogs being used for entertainment for rich people to gamble over. So they got to get out. Which is ironic because they moved to New York City in the first place to try to make something out of themselves.
Of course there is emotional baggage for both of our leads from past events and there is a climax that attempts to heal those past wounds. But in this reviewers opinion the ending doesn't pay off. Perhaps they would of been better off with the Midnight Cowboy ending where they get out of town on a bus but there's a big price to pay.
Fighting attempts to give us an ending that is pure Hollywood but it doesn't make sense with what we saw for the first hour and 40+ minutes.
Terrence Howard completely steals the entire movie away from the other performers. This is a role from an outsiders point of view that could be seen as an obvious character. But Howard takes this role to emotional levels that I've never seen before. His is really the character who is fighting the most in this film. He's constantely tired because he is so depressed. But he keeps waking up in the morning to fight another day. His strength is also his weakness where he cares too much for people and humanity. Whereas his former friends and colleagues just think of the bottom line and because of that have passed him by. They are into the big payoffs where Howard's character is still hustling Broadway and concert tickets 20 years later. He can't get ahead because he doesn't know how to not react with his emotions. And he hates himself for it. But that is what makes us love him so much. If only he has a good woman beside him to help him on his life's journey.
Channing Tatum plays the Fighter who is suppose to be our main character. The one who changes the most from beginning to end and the one we root for the most. But for some reason we don't care about him as much as we care about Howard's character. And that is the major problem of the film.
Overall, I enjoyed this film but it's no classic. But this director is obviously going places as he's giving us glimpses of life that has never been seen on screen yet. My advice to him is to stay true to his values and figure out how to give the studio suits what they want and what he wants to. And if he figures that out I hope to meet him so he can tell me.