Resurrecting the Champ

Cast:
Samuel L. Jackson as Champ
Josh Hartnett as Erik Kernen Jr.
Kathryn Morris as Joyce
Dakota Goyo as Teddy
Teri Hatcher as Flak
Alan Alda as Metz
Rachel Nichols as Polly
David Paymer as Whitley
Ryan McDonald as Kenny
Harry J. Lennix as Satterfield Jr.
Peter Coyote as Epstein
Chris Ippolito as Jaws
Stephen Strachan as Tillman
Eugene Clark as Washburn
Peter Skagen as Dunkin

Directed by Rod Lurie

Summary:
Sporting a strong ensemble cast and one of the best performances of Josh Hartnett’s career, Rod Lurie’s latest is a rich, intelligent look at truth in journalism in the same way that “The Contender” tackled politics, and it’s a real winner of a film.

Story:
Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) is a Denver sports writer who has come across the biggest story of his career when he realizes that a strange homeless man known as The Champ (Samuel L. Jackson) may indeed be the former heavyweight contender, Battlin’ Bob Satterfield. As he interviews The Champ for a high-profile magazine feature, Erik tries to connect with his young son who lives with his estranged ex-wife (Kathryn Morris).

Analysis:
Rod Lurie’s first movie in nearly five years might not seem like much at first glance. On the surface, the premise is a bit of a deceptive one about the discovery of a former boxing champion living on the streets, making it seem like just another boxing drama. In fact, setting the story in the world of boxing acts merely as a vehicle to explore the journey of a sports writer trying to earn the love of his son and be a better father than his own. Though it takes some time to get there, that journey is a rich, multi-layered one that doesn’t always go where one might expect.

Josh Hartnett’s Erik Kernen works in the trenches at the Denver Times, trying to live up to his father’s name while working in the same newsroom as his estranged wife (Kathryn Morris). Their son Teddy (Dakota Goya) idolizes his father, who lies to the boy about how he’s friends with John Elway and other sports stars. With Eric’s stories constantly being buried by his tough boss, a chance encounter with a homeless man known as “Champ” and the realization of who he really is gives Erik the chance to write something important that might elevate his career beyond the sports backpages. He begins to spend a lot of time with the Champ trying to get everything he needs to tell the powerful story of how a famous boxer could fall so far, while skating around those who don’t believe he has what it takes to tell this story.

Nearly unrecognizable with a rat’s nest of dreadlocks and delivering his lines with a high rasping wheeze, the eccentric behavior by Sam Jackson’s “Champ” might take some time to adjust to. He keeps the tone light throughout even when things start to get more serious, although it’s never about his character as much as it is about the part he plays in telling Erik’s story. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, something unexpected happens that drastically changes the tone and direction, at which point, it becomes less about Satterfield and more about how Erik deals with the repercussion of earlier actions, and this is where it clearly becomes Hartnett’s movie.

The best dramas are the ones that can keep you riveted with just two actors on screen, and Hartnett holds his own whether he’s interviewing the screen-hogging “Champ,” dealing with his tough editor—another great performance by Alan Alda—or in the scenes with his young son, played by Dakota Goyo. Surprisingly, it’s the latter that will really strike a chord and leave the most emotional impact on the viewer, whether you have kids or not. Film buffs should be able to appreciate the quality of the writing and acting and what Lurie has done with what might have been a simple story, and he doesn’t dilute things by inundating the viewer with the flashy camerawork other directors might have brought to the mix. Essentially, he proves once again that he’s able to tell a cinematic story in a clear and concise way that makes one appreciate the characters, the words and the emotions.

Clearly, “Resurrecting the Champ” is one of the better films this year, a personal best for Lurie and Hartnett and an endearing crowd-pleasing movie that can be enjoyed on many different levels by anyone who likes solid dramatic storytelling.

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