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Fighting (2009)

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Released:  Friday, April 24, 2009  
Length:  105 minutes
Studio: Rogue Pictures
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama
Rating: Fighting is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of AmericaSome material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


Starring Channing Tatum and Oscar®-nominated actor Terrence Howard, "Fighting" tells the story of Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum), a small-town boy who has come to New York City with nothing but a dark past. When scam artist Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) offers Shawn help at making real cash by streetfighting, the two form an uneasy partnership. Shawn and Harvey both find success, but there's also struggle -- for brotherhood, survival, and respect both in and out of the streetfighting ring. Their world involves the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns. If Shawn ever hopes to escape the dark world in which he’s found himself, he must now face the toughest fight of his life.

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Fighting images are © Rogue Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Fighting Theatrical Review

I am on the lookout for the Rocky of Mixed-Martial Arts fighting.  The "boxing story" is already its own genre -- perhaps more popular in earlier eras.  Robert E. Howard wrote boxing stories before moving to Conan; but today I think MMA is on the rise and, perhaps, will replace boxing as the combat sport of choice.  In the 1930's, boxing was apparently the most popular sport in America.  However, after seeing Fighting, I believe, even more so that MMA is not ready for its own Rocky yet.

Fighting is an MMA movie after a fashion.  It is not about the world of the MMA (UFC?) fight circuit.  It doesn't play to the Tap-Out fan-base.  It is not awash in the culture of mixed-martial arts with their legendary trainers, battling "houses," and so on. However, when the fights in Fighting happen, they are more than boxing and not exactly street-scraps.

The story of Fighting places Channing Tatum, a former fashion model, in the role of Shawn MacArthur, a college wrestler with a past history of "minor" violence.  Tatum's character is doing what he can to scrape by on the streets of New York.  We meet him selling fake Harry Potter books, and he runs into Harvey Boarden's gang (Terrence Howard) -- a hustler who scalps tickets and knows everyone…at least a little.  After Tatum takes on the gang who tried to rip him off, and then by chance meets Boraden again, Harvey decides the kid could make him some money as an underground fighter.

The fight-scene underground is played for realism: the fights are gritty, and the opponents meet the minimum standards for color and personality; most of them have no or almost no lines, there are no introductions, and the fights, while violent, are reasonably realistic.  As Tatum starts winning, getting interested in a pretty girl, and meeting a now-pro-fighter who shares an uncomfortable past with him, the stakes get higher.  However, when his mentor/friend Boarden wants him to throw a fight, Tatum says "no"…and the plot moves on from there.

Fighting is an interesting artifact as a plot -- it deals with two protagonists (Tatum and Howard) and their antagonists are so minimal that they are almost vanishing.  Yes, there is screen time paid to the humiliation both of them have endured as not being "somebody"; but in terms of a real conflict that drives to the climax of the movie?  It almost doesn't happen at all.

Also gone are the classic training scenes (save for a very short clip) and some of the classic bits where he has to fight people that get progressively tougher; they do get tougher, but you honestly never really know much about the guys he fights other than what they look like.  I think the movie aims for almost total "realism" in that the plotting gives a fantastic sense of place and a bit of character. It avoids weird double-crosses or unlikely long-con set ups.  However, it also gives us a "drama" that is so "business like"; it won't have you on the edge of your seat unless you somehow just do not see the ending coming.

The acting, however, is excellent -- Howard shines, and Zulay Henao, as the pretty girl friend, also shines; Tatum is believable if not especially charismatic. The fights are also good; they are MMA battles crossed with enough "street" to be believable -- no one gets an eye-gouged or fingers bitten.  If the movie fails to convince anywhere, it is that Tatum, without a constant regimen of high-powered training, is a champion-level MMA fighter.  We know he is tough, but is he tough enough to even "challenge" the champ?  I would doubt it.

In the end, I had hoped for something more electric from Fighting.  What I got was a slower, more nuanced movie; and that is not a bad thing. I would also be looking for a story with the fighter facing an iconic challenge -- something more like Rocky.  However, I am not sure I got that either -- the final fights are not built up enough, nor is there sufficient drama around what will be asked of Tatum to give me the feeling this was more than just another stepping-stone in a fighting career.

There really are back-yard fight venues (google Kimbo Slice).  The story is certainly credible and wisely avoids playing games with the viewer.  The characters we are given could be real, as well as the action as it plays out.  It is shot well with the city scenes almost shot more beautifully than the fighting scenes, and it flows reasonably well.

Fighting is like one of those UFC matches where both fighters are fighting a cautious, technical battle.  You admire the match on its technical merits, and like the action for what it is, but it doesn't get you out of your seat cheering.


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