In She's the Man, Tatum was adorable. That same year, he showcased his versatility as Tyler Gage in the physically demanding girlie-film Step Up and in the "Chris Chambers"-channeling role of Antonio in A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (Montiel's debut feature). On a roll, Tatum next stole the show with a brief five-minute cameo in Step Up 2 The Streets, and was the best thing about Kimberly Pierce's not very good Stop-Loss. Tatum is a physical actor, using his well-built body to evince masculinity while also flexing the powerful physique of his neck and chiseled face to suggest the subtlest of sensitivities. In two dinner table scenes opposite co-star Zulay Henao, Tatum cannily uses his grin and gaze to layer the character of Sean.
As Sean, Tatum plays a Brooklyn via Birmingham street-table hustler of bootleg books and movies, your average Hollywood bad boy with a heart of gold who just needs a few good breaks to scrape his way out the gutter. But after an old-school ticket scalper, Harvey (Terrence Howard), sees the way Sean can throw them 'bows after bare-fisting his way out of an orchestrated street scuffle, the two pair up like Warren Oats and a rooster and hit the underground fighting circuit to make some money. [NOTE: Because of the bizarre, mixed-ethnic and possibly mentally unstable performance of Terrence Howard in Fighting, I couldn't help but think of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy]
The generic sounding, straight-forward title of Fighting is actually wholly appropriate, because, as if looking up that word in the dictionary, every sequence in the movie is the F-word as action, event, or description. It is Harvey doing his respectable best to impress a clique of former associates who have shamed him. It is Zulay raising a daughter and supporting a grandmother on an eleven dollars an hour salary. It is Sean bare-knuckling with others so he can pay for a night's hotel stay.
But this is no boo-hoo boho flagellation fest like the overrated and out-of-touch Wendy and Lucy which some critics quickly rushed to anoint as "The New Depression"'s Bicycle Thieves. In fact, Fighting is refreshingly recession proof in its aversion to whining and a much more honest portrayal of street-survival than the goofy white trash-chic of Frozen River. This is working class American Dream revitalization. More than once, Montiel frames characters next to or in front of a replication of the Statue of Liberty, and he does so in moments of pride and forthrightness.With only two films under his belt, Dito Montiel feels like the comfortable heir to that classic trio of Big Apple-underbelly filmmakers: Martin Scorcese, Abel Ferrara, and James Toback. Like those three, Montiel is in love with his city, displaying an affectionate and ebullient coloring to the cultural differences within such wide-ranging sectors as The Bronx, Koreatown, and Wall Street. There is no class-warfare here, no segregation or separate casting of stones towards stereotypes, just a new day melting pot of people getting up off their knees and swinging at whatever may be in their way.