Saturday 13 April 2024

Movie Review: The Champ (1979)

Genre: Drama  
Director: Franco Zeffirelli  
Starring: Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, Ricky Schroeder, Jack Warden, Arthur Hill, Elisha Cook Jr., Strother Martin, Joan Blondell  
Running Time: 122 minutes  

Synopsis: In Florida, Billy Flynn (Jon Voight) is a retired former boxing champion, now frequently drunk, addicted to gambling, and reduced to working as a racetrack horse walker. Billy is nevertheless idolized by his eight year-old son TJ (Ricky Schroeder), who calls his Dad "the Champ". Billy's ex-wife Annie (Faye Dunaway) had abandoned the family when TJ was an infant but now re-emerges to reclaim her role as a mother. When Billy's gambling causes more heartache for TJ, he embarks on a boxing comeback.

What Works Well: The performances all lean towards theatrically sombre, but young Ricky Schroeder delivers remarkable dramatics and a memorable display of hero-worship and change-induced trauma. The production enjoys slick high-quality values, with Dunaway stepping out of a fashion catalogue for every scene, and the leads are aided by a cast deep in veteran talent. The one and only boxing bout is suitably brutal in typical all-out-offence Hollywood style, but the focus is more on eliciting tears than cheers. 

What Does Not Work As Well: Director Franco Zeffirelli's pacing is operatically languid, and TJ's dominating perspective suggests Son Of The Champ as a more suitable title. All the emotions are dialed to eleven and attached to some ridiculous details (let's allow a kid to hang out in a boxer's corner during a competitive bout!) aided by a music score eager to triple-underline tragic tones. Boxing fans will need to wade through more than 90 minutes of family melodrama within a horse racing milieu before a serious punch is thrown.

Conclusion: Slow, mawkish, and impactful.

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