It's always sad when you see someone who at one point was so great, but since has seen his life dwindle away. When you pass by people who look down on their luck, it's safe to assume that at some point in their life they were doing just fine; they were fun-loving children, went to Thanksgiving dinners with their family, and had a job. Maybe they were soldiers, or husbands, or fathers, or athletes. How someone can go from greatness to living on the street is hard to fathom, but it happens every day.
Resurrecting the Champ examines just such a case, as a struggling journalist (Josh Hartnett) stumbles across the story of a lifetime: a former boxing champ, long thought to be dead, is living in a nearby alley. Hartnett strikes up an awkward friendship with the man (Samuel L. Jackson), who clearly has some issues but his still has a great memory of his glorious past.
The movie has potential, but fails to fill it. The movie could have been a powerful, tragic tale of rise and fall, but director Rod Lurie and writers Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett focus on the wrong elements. Instead, Champ is about the rise and fall of a young journalist, which is much less interesting. Hartnett is good enough, but when you have Jackson playing an almost unrecognizable and ultimately pathetic character, there's no way the movie can be about anyone but Jackson.
Jackson is incredible in the movie, at least in terms of the transformation he undergoes. He looks and sounds about as different as Jackson could be without becoming white, and that is a feat for an actor this recognizable. If there's anything lacking, it's that the screenplay doesn't give him a chance to show his range. He is great, but he doesn't get a single powerful scene. Ultimately, Jackson turns in a brilliant performance, but is undermined by a weak story that completely falls apart in the third act.
The movie digresses into a film about journalist ethics, and while this was incredibly interesting in Shattered Glass, it's not nearly so much when the story is fictional. So many things could have been done around Jackson's character, it's a travesty when the film turns its back on him in the third act.
Resurrecting the Champ is not a bad movie by any means, but the concept is much more interesting than the actual story. Hartnett does a decent job, but Jackson steals the spotlight; unfortunately, Champ is hardly a knockout.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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