Resurrecting the Champ
Director: Rod Lurie
Writers: Michael Bortman, Allison Burnett
Cinematographer: Adam Kane
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Alan Alda, Kathryn Morris, David Paymer
Studio/Running Time: Yari Film Group, 111 mins.
"In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame
'I am leaving, I am leaving'
But the fighter still remains"
-Paul Simon "The Boxer"
In 2006, Samuel L. Jackson found himself in no less than seven film and television projects. Comparatively, he is taking a breather in 2007 by appearing in only three films so far. But the versatile actor will be hard pressed to create a performance this year more worthy than his portrayal of a has-been boxer in Resurrecting the Champ, his best work since Pulp Fiction and A Time to Kill.
Josh Hartnett plays Denver Times reporter Erik Kernan, Jr., whose desire to cover more than high school sports and to live up to his late sportswriter father's famous legacy leads him to cross the line of journalistic ethics. After coming to a drunken homeless person's defense against some street thugs, Erik learns the man is former heavyweight contender Bob Satterfield, a fighter who many had thought was already dead. In his haste to finally do something big, Erik fails to corroborate facts and even promises the story to two separate editors from the same paper. But soon he wonders if the boxer is even who he says he is.
Jackson plays Satterfield with a high, raspy voice and a face that's weary, wary and worn; his is a sit-up-and-watch, riveting performance. Erik does not try to "save" Champ, but he does befriend him. And through their encounters he sees the failures in the relationship with his own young son. There are no distinctly defined villains or heroes in the film, though. There are only men who are sometimes weak and sometimes courageous.
While the script is a little lean in places, director Rod Lurie (The Contender) brings the best from his actors. Hartnett gives a character-building representation as Erik, struggling to find the way out of his father's shadow. And Alan Alda is thoroughly convincing as Erik's hard-nosed editor. But it's Jackson's film. And if making seven a year is what it takes, then please, Mr. Jackson, keep on working.