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Movie Review: Resurrecting the Champ

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Yet another "based on a true story" film has reached the big screen. It has journalistic origins as does David Fincher's Zodiac; however Fincher's film stuck much more closely to the procedural aspects, seeking to retain the integrity of the original story, while Resurrecting the Champ looks more to the overly dramatic human story surrounding the source material. The act of writing the article is merely window dressing to the story itself. As for the movie, it is a decent tale, but the execution looks for the dramatic in the mundane, and in the end is carried by one spectacular performance.

Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) is the boxing beat writer for a Denver newspaper. He prides himself on his fast growing number of bylines, and struggles with his editor, Ralph (Alan Alda). Erik is accused of not having a voice, no personality showing in his articles. While Erik struggles with taking criticism, constructive or otherwise, he has raised his sights. He aspires to write for the newspaper's magazine section. This would afford him more time to focus on each article, and attempt to be a better father to his son, Teddy, and reunite with his estranged wife, Joyce, who is also a journalist.

One night, after covering a fight, Erik finds a homeless man being beaten up by a group of kids. He steps in to help and is introduced to a man who calls himself Champ (Samuel L. Jackson). Champ claims to be a former professional boxer, ranked number three in the world, having fought Jake Lamotta and sparred with Rocky Marciano. He says his name is Bob Satterfield. Erik files the name away, but has no idea who Satterfield is — strange, considering boxing is the sport he covers. Anyway, he pulls the name out the hat when he interviews for that magazine position. The editors buy into his pitch, and he is off to make the story happen.

He proceeds to conduct a number of interviews with Champ. With the application of a little alcohol, Champ opens up about his past. As their talks go on, Champ tells more and more, with an amazing recall of his past. Erik sees this as his ticket to bigger things. However, the further in he gets… well, let's just say that things are not quite as they appear, and the integrity of our feature writer is called into question as he is forced to confront his own motives and relationships.

Samuel L. Jackson reminds us, for the second time this year (following Black Snake Moan), of just how good an actor he is. Following such films as Freedomland, The Man, and Snakes on a Plane, it can be easy to forget just how good Jackson can be. He completely disappears into the role of Champ. He created a compelling, convincing character that could just have easily fallen into the tearjerker cliché of the down-on-his-luck former star. It really was amazing watching him work. Champ is a sympathetic character, who tells his story with wit and insight, regardless of the plainness of the spoken words.

On the other end of the scale is Josh Hartnett, who just doesn't carry the weight or the emotional depth required to make Erik an interesting figure. Erik is emotionally fragile, dealing with living in the shadow of an absentee father, who is a legendary boxing reporter from the 1950's. On top of that he is struggling with his role of father, wanting to do better by his son than his father did by him. The problem lies in Hartnett's inability to play that range — he comes across as being terribly bland. The supposed struggles are conveyed in dialogue, but not delivered in a convincing manner.

Finally, in a supporting role, Alan Alda does a very good job as Erik's editor. He is believable and imparts constructive criticism of the sort that I have received in the past. That is perhaps why his performance hit home for me.

The sad thing is that this movie tries so hard to be good, yet fails to deliver on its promise. Everything that didn't directly concern Jackson felt soft and weak by comparison. The moral conflict that is built up doesn't really pay off, nor do the problems that Erik had with his father. All of these elements, some of which seem like they should be important to the story, fail to really deliver anything of real use. When it was all over, I felt rather empty. I had a definite reaction to Champ, but everyone else failed to register.

Bottom line. A great performance brought down by a sub-par surrounding story and performances. This is definitely worth seeing for Jackson's knockout performance. It has the basis of an interesting story about journalistic integrity, personal responsibility, and the desire to make a mark, but in the end it fails to really offer anything on the subject.

Mildly Recommended.

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  • Congratulations! This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and Boston.com, which will allow even more readers to enjoy it.

  • Still going back and forth on whether to check this movie out or not, but the trailer looks interesting, and it will be good to check out Josh Hartnett’s performance.