Review by Ale Turdó
The eternal underdog.
Director Bert Marcus steps inside the ring to run a deep and critical status check on the boxing world. Champs (2014) might initially be perceived as your average run-of-the-mill boxing doc, but scene after scene and interview after interview it reveals to be so much more.
Pivoting between the legendary sporting careers of heavyweight powerhouses Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins, Champs keeps its distance from the glossy fables of success we usually stumble upon within the genre. Instead, it tries to make sense of a business in desperate need of deconstructing and self re-evaluation.
Boxing as a sport is rooted deeply in the American culture, it may have become the ultimate representation of the American dream: young people raised in poverty, coming from humble neighborhoods and having no role models. Surrounded by bullies, pimps, drugs and gangs. Those who might strike gold inside the ring lose it just as fast at the hands of their managers, layers and ultimately their own incapability of grasping the harsh side of the business. Which raises the question: why is this system still running?
An A-list of boxers, trainers, promoters, journalists, biographers, movie directors and actors share their thoughts on this unforgiving sport, where everybody learns their lesson the hard way and rising up can be just as easy as falling down.
The documentary builds its narrative around the different profiles of Tyson, Holyfield and Hopkins both inside and outside the ring: Tyson as the uncontrollable force of nature that spins out of control, Holyfield as the methodic sportsman and Hopkins as the underdog that turned his life around. The singularities of the three character’s careers and their charismatic personalities blend with Marcus’s masterplan of shining a light over the most controversial issues of the boxing world.
As usual in Marcus’s body of work, the archive material plays a key role. Footage from fights, training and excerpts of all the media frenzy surrounding a boxer’s everyday life paints a chaotic and accurate picture rarely seen in a sports documentary.
One of the most interesting things in Champs is the way it keeps focus on the social aspect embedded in the boxing culture. It emphasizes the fatherly role of trainers, the broken homes as the textbook origin point and the false perception of winning as the only way to escape from poverty and violence. The inefficiency of the incarceration system in the United States -which no longer has the capability or the programs to re-educate individuals and simply turns them into something worse- is also portrayed as a problem that hits society but has also a severe impact in the boxing circuit.
When you win, everybody wins, but when you lose, you lose alone. That seems to be the toughest lesson. But Tyson, Holyfield and Hopkins testimonies work as a silver lining, sharing the hopeful idea that the love for the game -in its purest form- which is ingrained in the fabric of the country, may one day elevate the sport and all of those involved, in order to make it fair and safe for everyone. I guess a boxer can only hope, right?
Ale Turdó —Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine