As much a workmanlike parade of stock characters as a movie, “A Fighting Man” takes a standard boxing movie premise and runs it through its paces with moderate competence, if not inspiration.
Dominic Purcell stars as washed-up boxer Sailor O’Connor, out of the game for four years but still known for having never been knocked down in the ring. Life itself has knocked him around, with the tragic loss of his wife and child, and the looming specter of his mother’s terminal cancer. When Mom (Sheila McCarthy) says she wants to visit the Irish (of course) homeland one last time, Sailor accepts one last fight from a shady promoter (Adam Beach) to earn the money. Even with the help of his long-time cornermen (James Caan and Michael Ironside), he’ll need all his iron will against King Soloman (Izaak Smith), a brash young fighter with a pregnant girlfriend and his own troubled past.
Director and writer Damian Lee does his best to obfuscate the routine nature of his characters, ducking and bobbing in a convoluted chronology, dropping you first into round five of the big fight, then flashing back and forth to earlier events and later rounds to reveal character motivations and important backstory. The gradual reveal of Sailor’s tragic past works better than it should, and Famke Janssen makes the most of her role as the woman who caused the tragedy and seeks forgiveness after her release from prison. I liked that King is not a cardboard villain, and has his own motivations that are sympathetic.
Other notes are hammered ruthlessly, and without much point, like Iron Mike working over the Good Humor Man for a snowcone. Yes, we get it, Sailor’s never been knocked down in the ring, you don’t need to say it in five consecutive scenes. Yes, the boxers are noble and Adam Beach’s promoter is snake-oil in a suit–you don’t need him to step into the ring mid-fight and offer a ridiculous prize to the loser of the fight. And the less said about the meet-cute between Janssen and the pregnant girlfriend, the better.
Other than McCarthy, who overdoes her character’s anti-Papist routine, the cast keeps the touch relatively light, using jabs instead of roundhouse punches, weaving to keep script weaknesses from showing too baldly, and (insert your own boxing metaphor for underplaying). Purcell’s acting style can be charitably called minimal, and he deploys both of his emotions (mournful, punched) with minimal fuss, as the brooding brick with boxing gloves. As a priest involved in Sailor’s past, a mis-cast Kim Coates looks more like a porn movie projectionist than a man of the cloth.
I’m no expert on the sweet science, but fans may probably question how a boxer who looks like a heavyweight could wind up in the ring with Smith’s seeming middleweight, but the fight sequences are believable, at least to an indiscriminate boxing fan such as myself. To its credit, “A Fighting Man” doesn’t try to punch above its weightclass, but in the end you can’t escape the feeling that this particular fight was fixed a long, long time ago.
The DVD of “A Fighting Man” is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen, in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc is adequate in color and sharpness, and features a surprising number of subtitle languages – English, English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, traditional Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
The audio track is 5.1 Dolby Digital. I had trouble understanding some of the dialogue, though that may be as much to actors mumbling as any sound problems. There are options for Spanish, Portuguese and Thai languages.
There are no extras on this disc.
Doggedly competent but mostly forgettable, “A Fighting Man” has slightly less than even odds of holding your sporting interest on a sleepy evening just before the knock-out round of the World Cup begins.