Movie Grade: A-
From the very first bars of Jay-Z's "Heart of the City"Â, you know exactly what this movie is going to sound like. From the very first handheld shot, framed in a frill-less documentary style, you know exactly what this movie is going to look like. And when that first punch hits, that first gut wrenching fist on bone reverberation, you know exactly what this movie is going to feel like. What you don't know, and what will have you on the edge of your seat until the last frame, is what'll happen next.
I was prepared to completely hate this movie. Channing Tatum starring in a film about underground bare-knuckle beat 'em ups with Terrence Howard as the manager/coach who takes him off the street and puts him in the ring. Set it all in New York City, a place which is rarely captured truthfully on film, and up the stakes with a childhood past that comes full circle. Throw in a club waitress who needs to be wooed by the hero and you've got a poor man's Rocky with gangster influences. The truly astounding part is that all of the above are true and yet the movie still manages to be fresh, original, and leave you guessing. I know what you're thinking, "How is that possible?"Â Let me try to explain.
First, Channing Tatum was born to play this guy. You can argue persuasively that he can't act his way out of a paper bag, but this role fits him like a glove. Every tormented moment, every genuine act of compassion (he holds the door open at the subway terminal and ends up standing there for like ten minutes as everyone goes through) feels completely natural. By shooting him with a handheld camera and giving the film an abnormally tall aspect ratio we feel less like we're watching a movie and more like we're peering through a window. Lines which would have bordered on cheesy stand up when filmed with this level of fidelity, and every character lands firmly on target. Terrence Howard spins his character with an effeminate edge and slides somewhere between a mental problem and just that nice guy who's taken a few too many concussions. Even the girl, who should be the easiest to write off of all the cast, has a fully fleshed out life complete with young daughter and a cantankerous grandmother with whom she currently lives.
If you're going to title the movie Fighting, you better bring the goods when the inevitable fists start flying. All other action films, take note, this is how you stage a world-class fistfight. A constantly moving camera brings the audience deep into the ring, and despite some quick cutting, you can always tell exactly what's going on. The filmmaker is not afraid to pull back and show you the whole picture, something
which is an incredible breath of fresh air these days, and when the battles inevitably branch off into other areas, the audience stays right there with them, feeling each and every blow.
Here is where the film hits its stride and truly shines. Gone are the chunky, canned, Hollywood punch sound effects. Each and every hit is harsh and clean, realistic to the point of standing out as some of the most brutal sound design I've ever heard. The realism doesn't let up, and even in the most emotional moments the filmmakers refrain from turning to slow motion, instead letting the moment play out in all its untouched glory. You've never seen a fight like this, and Fighting throws down the gauntlet for all who dare to follow. It is an adrenaline ride that turned our theater into an active cheering section and it deserves to be seen on as large a screen as possible with the best speaker system money can buy. Don't wait for the DVD, check this one out on the big screen. You won't be disappointed.
Movie Grade: A-
Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) has come to New York City with nothing. Barely earning a living selling counterfeit goods on the streets, his luck changes when scam artist Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) sees that he has a natural talent for streetfighting. When Harvey offers Shawn help at making the real cash, the two form an uneasy partnership.
As Shawn's manager, Harvey introduces him to the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns. Almost overnight, he becomes a star brawler, taking down professional boxers, mixed martial arts champs and ultimate fighters in a series of staggeringly intense bouts. But if Shawn ever hopes to escape the dark world in which he's found himself, he must now face the toughest fight of his life.