Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sweet Science: A Boxing Documentary

I'll admit up front that I'm not a boxing fan. I was stationed in Korea when Ray Mancini killed Duk Koo Kim in the ring. Prior to viewing Sweet Science: A Boxing Documentary, my favorite boxing movie was the '50s expose The Harder They Fall, which ends with Humphrey Bogart (in his last role, as a sportswriter who's been shilling for a crooked fight promoter) sitting down at his typewriter to pound out the line, "Professional boxing should be outlawed if it takes an act of Congress to do it." But I'm a sucker for a good story, and Dallas writer-director Chris Howell tells a great one here.

Start with a genuine hero: Coach Greg Hatley walked away from a career as a Dallas firefighter and a successful construction business to run a boxing gym with a mission -- to rescue kids from his Oak Cliff neighborhood who were in danger of slipping through society's cracks and into a morass of crime, drugs, and violence. Add a handful of engaging characters, four of the Oak Cliff Boxing Club's top fighters: Hatley's sons Charlie and Greg Jr. (aka "Rabbit"); Dominic Littleton, whose parents have both been in and out of prison since he was five, and is alternately hot-headed and charming; and Big Greg Corbin, pride of his family and his neighborhood, who comes to Coach Hatley to learn the science of boxing, because prior to that he'd been "just beating guys up" in the ring.

Then send them on a quest: the road to the 2004 Olympic boxing trials. Howell takes his time and lets us get to know his characters as they deal with adversity, both in and out of the ring. The result is a beautifully-paced, intimate portrait of the fighters as they battle to master themselves, as well as their opponents, and their coach as he fights to keep them motivated and away from the lure of the street while himself struggling with the club's finances. The soundtrack music, by Eric Mingus, echoes the composer's titanic father's and effectively mirrors the on-screen action.

[SPOILER ALERT] The boxing sequences are compelling and well-edited and the characters are comfortable enough with the camera to reveal themselves candidly. Their openness pulls the viewer into their corner, which makes it heart-wrenching when two of them go down paths that are all too common and have nothing to do with boxing. Ultimately, it's their teammates' resilience in the face of adversity that makes this an uplifting story. The climactic triumph is made more meaningful by the knowledge of what it took to get there and those left behind. [/SPOILER ALERT]

The film's world premiere is at 7:00pm on Monday, April 12th, at the Angelika Theater, 5321 East Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, part of the Dallas International Film Festival. The boxers and filmmaker will be present. Get tickets here.


Blogger andrew m. said...

i'd love to see this. from the trailer alone it looks like a real tearjerker.

i love the pugilistic arts and wish i had the time/money to see more of them (fights cost major $$ to watch on pay-per-view - like 50 bucks sometimes.) nice to see these fellas getting props for the hell they put themselves through. don't think many folks realize the sacrifices they make outside the ring are often as brutal as the beatings they take when that bell rings.

11:22 AM  

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