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RESURRECTING THE CHAMP

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, Alan Alda, Rachel Nichols, David Paymer, Teri Hatcher
Director: Rod Lurie
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 111 Minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2008

“A writer, like a boxer, must stand alone.”

Film ****

There hasn’t been a film in quite some time that has wonderfully blended together the worlds of sports and journalism. Resurrecting the Champ accomplishes that, and a whole lot more. At the heart of director Rod Lurie’s film is a passionately told tale about deception, the legacy of lies and how that affects so many things, particularly the bond between father and son.

Now the film isn’t without a level of sentimentality, which some viewers may find a bit overdone. Not me, as I found all of that worthy of the story being told. And if anything, I found this film not only an enriching experience, but a most original one as well despite the familiar genre elements.

The film is inspired by a true story in the form of an article written by J.R. Moehringer in the Los Angeles Times magazine. Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) is a sportswriter for The Denver Times who’s down on his luck in terms of coming up with quality pieces. His boss (Alan Alda) believes in him as a journalist but doesn’t think he’s applying himself.

But Erik has stumbled onto to a story that he thinks can change everything for him. One night, after witnessing some punks beating up on a homeless man. Erik attempts to help the man (Samuel L. Jackson), who claims to be the one time heavyweight champion, ‘Battlin’ Bob Satterfield.

And Satterfield, or Champ as the writer refers to him, has got quite a story to tell. He was once ranked No. 3 in the world, and has even sparred with the likes of Rocky Marciano and Jake La Motta. Erik confesses to the Champ that he needs a story like this to keep from being fired, and Champ agrees to tell him his story in exchange for helping him during their first meeting.

The story, titled appropriately “Resurrecting the Champ”, is soon written and published. Much to Erik’s surprise, the response is overwhelming. The attention to his story is so huge, that executives at Showtime want to hire Erik to cover live broadcast fights.

Then there’s a surprising development concerning Champ’s story. I won’t go into details, because the less you know about it the more effective it will be. But I will say that it’s at this turning point where Resurrecting the Champ goes from being a very good film to an altogether great one.

Anytime Samuel L. Jackson is in a movie, you expect at least a most entertaining performance. In this film, you get Jackson in one of his most distinctive and greatest performances to date. Barely recognizable and speaking in an authentic street dialect, this is a phenomenal piece of acting that is going to blow away anyone who sees it, especially those expecting the typical Sam Jackson persona. Jackson was truly deserving of a Best Actor nomination, but since the film itself hardly got noticed, I had a feeling he’d get the shaft.

And Josh Hartnett, who has been improving tremendously lately, provides his strongest work yet in this film. You see him go into some true emotional depth with this character, especially towards the end of the film. There’s also some fine supporting work from Alan Alda, Kathryn Morris as Erik’s estranged wife, and a completely unrecognizable Peter Coyote who has two brief scenes, but crucial ones.

Resurrecting the Champ is easily one of the best films of last year that nobody saw. Though it’s not the best film about journalism to come out last year (that honor goes to Zodiac), it ranks alongside the likes of Shattered Glass in its depicting of true stories dealing with journalism and the issues of truth. And you will feel the movie deliver quite the heartfelt impact by its conclusion. 

Video ***

Fox has provided a nice enough anamorphic transfer for this film, even though what I’m reviewing is a screener disc and may not represent the look of the final product. But the picture quality is satisfying enough, with sharp imagery and nice use of colors. Both indoor and outdoor sequences pan out nicely.

Audio ***

The film is mainly a dialogue-oriented one, but the 5.1 mix does a effective job with the proceedings. There’s periodic boxing footage that adds quite a bit to the presentation, and dialogue delivery is pitch-perfect.

Features **

Included on this Fox release is a fine commentary with director Rod Lurie, as well as a brief behind the scenes featurette, Cast and Crew Interviews, a Theatrical Trailer and bonus previews for additional Fox releases including The Darjeeling Limited and In the Name of the King.

Summary:

Since it was missed by many in theaters, Resurrecting the Champ is a film that very much deserves to be resurrected on DVD. It’s a thoroughly involving morality tale that is also most uplifting.  It’s simply a fantastic film that everyone needs to see.

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