Chuck (2017) Film Review from the 16th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Philippe Falardeau and starring Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan, Morgan Spector, Pooch Hall, and Michael Rapaport.
Chuck enters a long list of boxing biopics that have been told in Hollywood, but this film isn’t your typical boxing story. Based on the life of famed boxing legend Chuck Wepner, the film plays out like an underdog story, but it also shows the beauty of getting beaten in the ring. For those who don’t know, Chuck’s story helped inspire Rocky, which no one knew much about. Even though boxing is part of the film, it is not entirely about the sport but more on the athlete.
The film focuses on the prominent career of local New Jersey boxer Chuck Wepner, played by the tough yet charming Live Schreiber. Wepner has been called The Bleeder from Bayonne due to him having to take up punches from his opponents. Following his career, we see a turning point when he gains a Heavyweight title shot against Muhammed Ali after his famous win in Rumble in the Jungle. It’s no surprise that he was never going to win that fight, but he does get a kick out of that match bragging to people that he did knock out the champ for just a second and went through 15 rounds with him. He ends up being treated like a hero in his hometown. He becomes a local celebrity who ends up being an inspiration to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky character.
There are some parallels between Chuck’s story and Rocky’s. Narrated by the famous boxer in what sounds more like a sales pitch, Chuck was an underdog like his fictional counterpart but he’s not inexperienced or was much of a faithful husband. He ends up cheating on his wife Pyllis (Elizabeth Moss) and never gets to be part of his daughter’s life since the fight with Ali. We see the boxer as he spirals down into a shell of his former self by partying, drinking, and drugs while taking advantage over the success of Rocky. Funny enough, Chuck’s journey is also similar to Requiem for a Heavyweight, a film that also gets played in the biopic.
The movie tends to be close to the real-life story of Chuck Wepner like other boxing films, but it never lost touch of that humor that plays so well with him. Even the side story of him finding Stallone (Morgan Spector) and almost getting a walk-on role in Rocky III makes it a quality film. It was also funny seeing him resort to fighting a bear or Andre The Giant to keep his career going. Chuck comes out breaking the trend of traditional boxing films that it’s story involuntarily inspired.
Chuck’s life has a mix of lightness and drama, something that makes the film enjoyable to watch. Schreiber manages to give enough wit and charm to this character even though certain liberties may have been taken for the film. Chuck comes off as this workaholic who becomes obsessive with his celebrity status. There is a warm friendliness from his small-mindedness that makes him appealing.
The film works so well with the supporting cast, especially with Elisabeth Moss as the tough-as-nails wife of Chuck. Moss plays off Phyllis as this caring wife who can’t stand the fact that Chuck has let his ego get the better of him. The additions of Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan make the film a delight to see. Even Pooch Hall plays a convincing Muhammed Ali with his style and attitude. What’s more interesting is Naomi Watt’s role as Linda, the woman whom Chuck ends up getting close with during his career’s downfall. Both Schreiber and Watts show some great chemistry that triumph over the final act of the film.
To that end, Chuck has a lot going for it with it’s subject, allowing the film to acknowledge that it’s another boxing movie that doesn’t want to be the best of them. It just wants to go the distance and see where it goes, which is what the film does best. Wepner’s story offers a lot to think about in boxing and in life. It gives us a reality check that you can’t win them all, but it’s how you rise above that and move on.
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