Now in Cinemas: Reviews for March 20, 2008

Reviews: Resurrecting the Champ, Reservation Road

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

A compelling story most of the way, Rod Lurie’s Resurrecting the Champ is only marred by some by-the-numbers storytelling as it dots every I and crosses every T on its way to a predictable finale. Tale of a once-renowned boxer, thought to be dead, re-discovered as a homeless man living on the streets is equally fascinating and heartfelt; especially as this film was based on true story. Critic turned director Lurie (The Contender, The Last Castle) has turned in another solid if unspectacular film.

Resurrecting the Champ
Directed by Rod Lurie. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Teri Hatcher, Kathryn Morris, Rachel Nichols, Alan Alda, David Paymer, Dakota Goyo, Peter Coyote, Ryan McDonald, Harry J. Lennix. Written by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, from an L.A. Times article by J.R. Moehringer.
IMDb link

Josh Hartnett stars as boxing journalist Erik Kernan, living in his father’s shadow, separated from his wife, trying to impress his young son with exaggerated tales of his relationships with sports icons. He’s looking to make a name for himself with that elusive big story, and when he stumbles upon a homeless man being beaten up by some teenagers, he may have found it. That homeless man (played by Samuel L. Jackson) refers to himself as ‘The Champ’ and claims to be a certain Bob Satterfield, once ranked number three in the world. He now lives from a shopping cart and regales Kernan with tales of sparring with Rocky Marciano in exchange for booze. Everyone seems to have nothing but praise for Satterfield the boxer, whom they all thought had died twenty years ago though no one can recall a funeral. Jackson completely disappears into the role, creating a character that avoids the expected sentimentality and invigorates the film. Hartnett is bland but effective as the reporter. Supporting cast is also fun, especially Alan Alda as Kernan’s editor. This is prime material for some incisive commentary; a second-act twist, unexpected by me, enriches the experience. Only true negative is a third act that tends to drag its feet.

The film had me so interested in its story that I sought to read the original article it was based on; after doing so, I felt a bit uneasy. The movie had not really done justice to it; a major plot detail was unnecessarily injected into the film, and the character played by Josh Hartnett, to put it mildly, did not seem like the kind of journalist that would win a Pulitzer (J.R. Moehringer, author of the article, has won the award). Still, the film does succeed on its own terms.

The original article – which I wouldn’t recommend reading before seeing the film – can be found online here.


Reservation Road
Directed by Terry George. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino, Elle Fanning, Sean Curley, Eddie Alderson, Gary Kohn. Written by John Burnham Schwartz and Terry George, from Schwartz’ novel.
IMDb link

Potentially riveting material is squandered in Terry George’s Reservation Road, a film that starts off with a jolt but quickly becomes tedious as unneeded coincidences pile up. Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace Learner (Jennifer Connelly) are taking their kids home after son Josh’s recital. They stop at a gas station; daughter Emma uses the restroom while son Josh releases some butterflies by the side of the road. Meanwhile, attorney Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is impatiently bringing his own kid to his ex-wife, a late dropoff after attending a baseball game. Fate hits, and Dwight strikes Josh by the road, killing him. The Learner’s are left to deal with the grief of a young son taken from them, dad Ethan taking it particularly hard and plotting revenge, while Arno, coming to terms with what he’s done, wrestles with turning himself in.

It’s been said that film audiences can accept one giant coincidence per movie; after that, however, you’re treading water. After the initial incident, Reservation Road implausibly piles them on one after another: not only is Dwight the attorney Ethan hires to follow up on the case, but his ex-wife (played by Mira Sorvino) is Ethan’s daughter’s piano teacher. With such potentially powerful material, it’s unfair of the film to force the characters to interact in such unlikely (and completely unnecessary) scenes; the delicate material takes a giant hit when we begin to question its credibility. Frequent instant messaging scenes don’t help either; some day, filmmakers will realize there are more involving things to show us than words being typed on a screen. Ultimately, the film feels like an acting showcase for Phoenix and Ruffalo; while they’re both excellent, the storytelling here is almost completely flat. Still, the film maintains some respect for attempting to handle the sensitive story in an adult and realistic fashion.


Also opening: Mark Waters’ fantasy film The Spiderwick Chronicles (showtimes | IMDb), from the series of books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, starring Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Joan Plowright, Nick Nolte, Andrew McCarthy. Film is playing in a Czech-dubbed version on most screens but an English-language version can be found at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům.

And: the Czech drama Venkovský učitel (showtimes), from director Bohdan Sláma and starring Pavel Liška, Zuzana Bydžovská, Ladislav Šedivý, Marek Daniel, Tereza Voříšková, Zuzana Kronerová, Miroslav Krobot. English-subtitled prints can be found at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům and Villages Cinemas Anděl.

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