Movie review – “Fighting”
By J.A. O’Sullivan
The last several months have seen three overtly earnest films set in New York City released. “NIck and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” captured the innocence of a young couple trying to make a connection among the clubs and concert halls of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “Two Lovers” followed a regular-Joe in Brooklyn flirting with the affections of two women. Now, enter “Fighting,” the story a southern street dog in the city to make it big. A departure from contemporary snark and crudity (other than good, old-fashioned fist chucking) “Fighting” is a throw-back to 1970s working-class flicks like “Rocky” like where there’s only two kinds of people: losers climbing the ladder and bad guys kicking down on them from above.
A down-and-outer trying to make something of (and for) himself in the trash-strewn streets of a city too big to care, Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum, “Stop Loss”) is selling counterfeit merchandise when he captures the attention of Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard, “Hustle and Flow”). Boarden, a fading self-described “two-bit hustler.” Boarden hooks Shawn up with a fight and the two begin a working relationship that teeters between warmth, distrust and mutual curiosity. After the fights, Shawn spends his time at a club where he meets waitress Zulay (Zulay Henao, “Feel the Noise”), who he begins to pursue. As they win fights, Harvey and Shawn must struggle against Harvey’s self-doubt and his former friends, bigger sharks who also arrange and bet on brawlers.
“Fighting” shines not because of originality — viewers will know exactly where they’re being taken, and exactly how they will get there — but because of its impressive atmospherics. Director Dito Montiel (”A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”) captures the city’s unsightly piles of garbage, pitiful shoebox apartments and even makes a pit-stop for a scene in the Bronx (when did that last happen?). There are the obligatory club scenes and pricey bout locations, but the movie captures the frustration claustrophobia of New York’s other half. The fight scenes, too, are enjoyable, avoiding the amped-up slow-motion affects and undue drama.
Tatum is satisfying if unspectacular in his role as the Alabaman college wrestler-turned-fighter, and Henao is appropriate for her role. But as Shawn’s promoter, Howard adds the earthiness and melancholy of a cheap cologne to an otherwise standard fighter-who-beats-the-odds story line. Arriving in the city from Chicago long ago to make his fortune, Howard’s Harvey is the doormat of his former friends and laughingstock of the local fight scene. The pain oozes from his pores as he takes his daily lumps and raggedly continues to pursue a dream, any dream, and finally, Shawn’s dream.
Director: Dito Montiel
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Tags: Channing Tatum, Fighting 2009, movie reviews, New York City, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao