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Movie Review: Resurrecting the Champ
In a marked departure from his previous, politically-charged directorial efforts, Rod Lurie delivers a thoughtful, often poignant film about family and morality in Resurrecting the Champ. Based in part on a Los Angeles Times Magazine article by J.R. Moehringer, Resurrecting the Champ tells the story of Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett), a sportswriter living in the shadow of his late father, a legendary broadcaster. Erik is your classic hustler--quick with a lie and unwilling to do the hard work necessary to make something significant out of himself.
He's drifting through life as a mediocre writer and an even worse father until one night--as if by Providence--he meets Champ (Samuel L. Jackson), a homeless old man who was once one of the finest boxers in the world. Erik immediately sees the draw of Champ's story. He goes over the head of his boss (Alan Alda) and pitches the story directly to the editor (David Paymer) of his newspaper's magazine who quickly accepts. Now all Erik has to do is convince Champ to participate which he does with a heavy, constant infusion of cheap beer.
The typical version of this type of story would, of course, focus and end on Champ and Erik's mutual redemption, but Lurie chooses to do something a bit more complex. We quickly recognize that Erik's lazy moral compass leads not only to failure at work, but failure in marriage and disappointment in his relationship with his young son (a precocious Dakota Goyo). Lurie's larger point is how a willingness to sacrifice one's integrity will ultimately infect every aspect of one's life, polluting and diminishing it both in Erik's case and in Champ's.
The film's final act depends largely on a series of revelations that question and undermine many of the beliefs we had about the characters in the film. I won't spoil them for you here except to say that they are consistent with ideas expressed earlier in the film about the value and the cost of honesty and responsibility. Erik's final redemption does, in fact, come but the price he must pay for it is severe and damaging. As his separated wife, Kathryn Morris is superb in reflecting the many faults that he must face and conquer within himself.
Resurrecting the Champ is the rare film that I enjoyed even more in retrospect. Samuel L. Jackson's performance walks along a terribly thin ledge that could easily slip into parody, but he infuses it with enough gravity that you eventually accept its strongly stylistic flourishes. While Lurie's reputation is that of a provocateur, he shows here that he can be a solid, commercial director capable of telling compelling, layered stories. I might have liked less resolution in its finale, but Resurrecting the Champ is certainly a film to see.
Resurrecting the Champ opens today in Los Angeles.
Photos courtesy of the Yari Film Group