Let’s face it… when it comes to boxing movies, there’s Raging Bull, and then there’s everything else. Rocky (and the subsequent cash driven vehicles) is a great film, but not really a great film about boxing. Even Daniel Day-Lewis’ The Boxer is more about the man than the sport. It’s hard to make a great boxing film. Not only is it extremely difficult to capture the action authentically, but very few actors have the physical ability to pull off such a role.
Well, I don’t know how easily…it was done, but John Leguizamo has made quite a valiant effort at conquering this challenge in this film, his directorial debut. The story is just what you would expect, chronicling the rise of a young poor kid from the streets as he wins fame and fortune, and loses himself along the way. The good news is, this predictable plot is peppered with some truly fantastic boxing segments. The viewer feels the momentum shifts in the matches, and is not just subjected to a highlight reel of punches, which seems to be the norm in so many of the movies of this genre.
Leguizamo has done a good thing by bringing this story to the screen, and has shown that it is not impossible for a film to show both a love for, and a fear of, the sport of boxing.
The producers of this disc did a very smart thing with regards to the Dolby Digital 5.1 track; they kept the audio modest until it counted. Through the first 20 minutes or so of the film, I was thoroughly unimpressed with the quality of the audio. It wasn’t particularly bad, mind you, it was just weak, with no real driving punch. Then the first fight started. As I watched the action and intensity increase on the screen, the sound quality began to improve. Finally, at the climax of the fight, the bass really started to kick in, and the last few punches of the match were punctuated with a hard and fast, “thump, thump, thump.”
What a smart move. By only using the full spectrum of the audio when it really matters, viewers are subconsciously thrust further into the action during these portions of the film. While I would have liked to have heard more ambient sound coming from the surrounds, the overall impression that I got of the sound quality on this disc was entirely favorable.
Usually, I use this section of the review to discuss the transfer quality. (It was good, by the way, with deep blacks and vibrant colors, though the clarity could have been a little better). However, this time I’d rather use this section to talk about the camera. I was taken aback by the tasteful-yet-progressive camera work in this film. When our hero is in his Jackson Heights neighborhood, handheld cameras are used to underscore the volatile nature of the area. When he is in posh surroundings, the movements are much more smooth and graceful. When he is in the ring, the camera work is tight and detailed. Daring angles show up throughout the film, as does a fantastic homage to the legendary Copacabana tracking shot in Goodfellas. I was really impressed by Leguizamo’s work, as his vision of this story is way beyond that of the ordinary first-time director. He does such a good job behind the camera that I hope he decides to spend much more time there in the future. While there is nothing wrong with his skills as an actor, he could really develop into an “A” list director with just a little more practice.
It is understandable that with this being his first feature film, Leguizamo probably didn’t have DVD extras on his mind during the filming of the feature. As a result, there is very little included here in that department. HBO has added the standard promo for their other films available on DVD, as well as a short featurette that plays as a behind the scenes piece. A similar glorified advertisement shows up in the form of an interview with John Leguizamo that is presented in both Spanish and English, with the appropriate subtitles included.
The best piece is the commentary, however. It’s always nice to hear from a new director, or one that may not be regarded as a superstar. Many times, they have much more insight to share with regards to the production, as it is all still a bit of a thrill for them. Lucky for the consumer, this commentary is no exception. Leguizamo sidesteps much of the typical droll conversation contained on many discs to share details about re-shoots, the studio system (and HBO’s place in it) and the directorial process. His love for both film and his work shines through, making this a great and entertaining commentary.
It’s not TV, it’s HBO.
This film is a perfect example of how true that slogan really is. While this is a film that was made for TV, it absolutely does not have the feel of the typical made-for-TV film. While the piece is missing that intangible quality that is necessary for a good film to become a great one, this is perfect Saturday afternoon faire. Boxing purists will still prefer to see Raging Bull for the 83rd time, but for those looking for something a little different, this one’s a knockout.
Special Features List
- Interview with John Leguizamo in Spanish with English Subtitles
- Behind-the-scenes making of featurette
- Director’s audio commentary by John Leguizamo`