Samuel L. Jackson is notable for his complete absorption into his screen characters -- both in style, look and tenor. An absorption that is evident in his latest flick in which he portrays a former boxer now homeless on the streets of Denver.
When we are first introduced to Jackson’s character, Champ, he is riffling through trash cans in a Denver back alley, in a role reminiscent of the character played in Spike Lee's “Jungle Fever,” where Jackson made his humble beginnings on the big screen. Living on the streets with a shopping cart piled high with all his worldly possessions, the Champ has just survived another thrashing by local hoodlums when he is discovered by a reporter from the Denver Times Newspaper. Erik, (Josh Hartnett) a sports reporter is having a dry spell at the paper and has been living in the shadow of his famous father ever since he too decided to become a journalist, but is constantly told by his editor Metz (Alan Alda) that his articles are not great. “I forget your pieces while I am reading them,” Metz complains. “A lotta typing not much writing.” After meeting the Champ, Erik discovers he has just rescued the legendary ‘Battling Bob Satterfield’ and stumbled on the story of a lifetime that could resuscitate his own ailing career at the paper. An article about the rise, fall and resurrection of a former heavyweight contender now reduced to sleeping in back alleys could get his career off the ground and be the title shot he has been waiting for to change his life forever.
Based on a true story by former Rocky Mountain News reporter J.R. Moehringer, now with the Los Angeles Times, this is one of those flicks which could be carelessly dismissed as another inspiring sports drama or a rags to riches story, but what appears to be a movie about boxing turns out to be a heartwarming tale of a co-dependent relationship between an ambitious young journalist and a former heavyweight boxer which ends with very unexpected results. “This guy [Champ] is a fallen hero of sorts, a man who wants so much to be somebody else that he winds up being nobody,” says Jackson who claims he was drawn to the character because he found him so fascinating.
The beauty of this flick is the many directions it follows and the issues and topics it touches on: homelessness, aspirations, goals and journalistic ethics all whilst exploring multiple relationships and the mindsets of its several characters. There’s a humorous part where both men are having lunch at a homeless shelter and Erik refers to Champ’s cart which has been left outside only to hear the Champ cite a ‘homeless code of conduct’. Renowned actor Alan Alda lends a brilliant and authoritative air to his newspaper editor role and former journalist turned director Rod Lurie aptly captures the lucid atmosphere of the newsroom including interactions between writers and editors. “I wanted to show the actual hustle and bustle that goes on in such a place,” says Lurie who filmed the newsroom scenes at the Calgary Herald. “We didn’t even ask people to stop working while we filmed and some of the real staffers actually found themselves in the movie.” It’s the audience’s quest to discover what factors led to the Champ’s demise that makes it all the more engaging for what begins as a tale about resurrecting a former boxing champion becomes a story of two individual’s aspirations and co-dependency both needing each other to resurrect the other. Kathryn Morris stars as Erik’s estranged wife who also works at the paper and Teri Hatcher rounds up the cast as a Showtime executive who tries seduce Erik into a position at the Network in this brilliant and well crafted flick.