A movie like Chuck is an awkward property to try to sell to the public. For one thing, it’s putting the spotlight on Chuck Wepner, a real life boxer who never actually won a world championship. Since that’s considered the pinnacle of a professional boxing career, not having that to rely on is odd. What makes it even weirder is that an exaggerated version of his life story was already told with the release of Rocky, the award-winning boxing epic that turned Sylvester Stallone into a household name. So how do you attempt to make the real story standout when you have those things working against you?
For starters, you focus on the 1975 title fight and the build leading up to it that inspired Stallone’s 1978 film. After that, you look at how the period after Wepner’s career defining loss to an aging Muhammad Ali unfolded. It’s throughout these periods that Phillipe Falaradeau sets everything around. Within this timeframe, audiences are offered the chance to witness the man’s growth from a liquor salesman/fringe contender to an overnight celebrity with a display of heart that made him even more popular in his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey.
Chuck features a rare leading performance in a film by Liev Schreiber as Chuck Wepner. He proves himself to be quite capable of the responsibility with a believable performance in a feature film that’s somewhat lighthearted while still managing to take a look at some mature subjects. When thinking about the film and the life that it’s based on, I can see how it would make some people think that it would make for a compelling story to get out there. What makes this even more interesting is that it allows the actual man at the center of it to have a period where his actual experience is put out there for viewers.
With the fact that his life was already shown to us in a more melodramatic form decades earlier, seeing this as a unique way to present a movie about an actual person was obvious. And when looking at that, it should come as no shock that the structure of the entire picture is also unique and unconventional for this genre. This fact carries you through a good portion of the entire film as we become engaged by the positivity of an underdog just happy to get a chance at a great opportunity.
During these portions of Chuck, we get to know who he is while also finding out more about where he came from. This lets me know that there was a good bit of research that went into all of this, and I’d imagine that was due to there being a legitimate amount of enthusiasm about the project as well. This goes well for a while, but everything starts to slow down a bit once we get through the fight and the immediate aftermath that followed it.
The big fight is usually what ends a big boxing film, but since he lost and Rocky added to his overall story, there were more things that could be brought to our attention. Unfortunately, much of what we see at this point is what we get in the typical boxing movie. What’s shown here consist of the usual difficulties that plenty of boxers have been through over the course of their dysfunctional careers in the sport. Some people will be fine with this, but there are others who will take issue with Chuck eventually turning into just another conventional movie about the sport of boxing because of it.
The other problem that comes with this is that some people may have is the fact that the lighthearted and somewhat comedic tone never really fades away. Even when Wepner is at his worst, there’s an upbeat feel that is always hovering. Maybe this is just based around his actual personality, but the film would have benefited from going a little darker in order to make it all have a bit more of an impact. Then again, this could also be a good thing if some people just want to watch a story of redemption. I just think giving the film more of a swing of emotion adds more juice to everything when Chuck finally attempts to rise above his personal troubles.
What prevents Chuck from being a special movie is that we have heard these stories before. Whether they were fiction, nonfiction or already based on his life, we’ve experienced this kind of thing multiple times throughout previous decades. We’ve also seen them done in a more rousing manner that allow it all to stick with us. Because of all of this, there’s nothing to separate this boxing flick from what came before it and what will ultimately come after it.
Needless to say, Rocky took much of the steam out of Chuck‘s move to the big screen. And while saying that, it would also be difficult to see this movie even being made if that popular franchise had never been brought into existence. I guess this is another thing that makes this whole thing awkward. That’s the bad part of it, but the good part is that now there is something out there for people who wanted something more concrete about the boxer himself. This allows them to see at least parts of who he was in one of the most interesting stages of his life.
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau
Film Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: May 12, 2017
Distributor: IFC Films
- Score - 6/106/10