Wednesday, April 22, 2009

FIGHTING

Now that Jason Statham is finally getting the credit he deserves as an actor (for a shift away from the way you know him, check out Statham in the 2005 film London), there is an open space in that claw vending machine of under appreciated and underrated actors. It's arguable that Channing Tatum was already in there pressed up against the fiberglass, but with his first true top-billing role in the new Dito Montiel film Fighting, the kid is like an athlete hitting on all cylinders while the pro scouts take notes quietly in the stands.

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.

11 comments:

Slayton said...

I'm really excited to see this film. Tatum, as an actor, really deserves a good break.

Fox said...

Slayton-

If you don't review it on your own site, come back here and tell me what you think.

Have you seen A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints? And, if so, did you like it?

The other thing about Tatum is that I've heard that he is a very sweet and humble guy. Of course, I don't know for sure, but I like to believe that.

Slayton said...

I saw about half of A Guide at Wellington Film Festival about 2 years ago, but we were late to meeting someone so we had to leave halfway through - luckily we had a pass for the entire festival that year so we didn't lose any money. From what I saw Tatum was very good.

Joseph B. said...

Fox, I think you're the only other blogger out there beating a drum for "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints". Simply brilliant film. I'm looking forward to this one.

Fox said...

Joseph-

I sure hope that's not the case. I try to push it on people when I can, and, in fact, I think it makes for a nice lead-in to watching Fighting. I certainly don't think it's a masterpiece, but it went unjustly overlooked when it was (briefly) in theaters.

Though I didn't mention them in this review, Shia LeBeouf and Melonie Diaz are great in A Guide... as well. I think Melonie Diaz is brilliant in everything... another under appreciated talent.

Rick Olson said...

Now that Jason Statham is finally getting the credit he deserves as an actor...

I hope he doesn't stop making action flicks ... I mean, I don't give a sh*t whether he gets his due as an actor, but I think he's one of the truly great action stars.

But he IS a good actor ...

Keith said...

Great writeup on this film. I've seen the trailers for it. I actually had been wanting to see it. Your post makes me wanna see it even more. I've liked Channing Tatum in the other films I've seen him in.

Fox said...

I hope he doesn't stop making action flicks ... ...

Don't worry, Rick. He's got the lead in the new Stallone epic, and then he's supposedly reprising the Charles Bronson role in a The Mechanic remake.

Fox said...

Thanks Keith.

I hope it does well this weekend, but my gut is telling me it's gonna do as poorly as Adventureland or Crank 2 did in it's first week.

Thing is, I'm expecting some of the fanboy movie sites to downgrade this movie b/c it doesn't have enough ass-kickery in it. It's really not that type of film.

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