Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Public Enemies) knows firsthand that every day in New York City is a struggle to survive. So when scam artist Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard, Iron Man, Hustle and Flow) gives him a chance to be something more in the brutal underground world of bare-knuckle street-fighting, Shawn decides that he has something worth fighting for and puts everything on the line to win. Every knockout brings him closer to the life he’s always wanted, but also traps him in a dangerous web he can’t escape.
The last thing you might expect from a movie called Fighting is excellent acting, but that’s what you’ll get. A scam artist named Harvey (Terrence Howard) sees a young would-be hustler named Shawn (Channing Tatum, Step Up, Stop-Loss) in a street scuffle and lures him into a no-rules fighting circuit. Shawn’s relentless drive to win leads him to unexpected success, but when he gets put into a big fight with a professional boxer, Harvey asks Shawn to take a dive. The plot sounds like a thousand boxing movies, but the difference is all in the texture. Fighting takes place in a very real New York City, with cramped, make-shift apartments, cluttered streets, and seedy nightclubs. Scenes get knocked sideways by odd bits of life and character quirks that feel organic, not shoehorned in by some clever screenwriter. There’s a marvelous scene where Shawn is trying to woo the Puerto Rican waitress he’s smitten with (Zulay Henao, Feel the Noise), but they keep getting interrupted by her suspicious mother--which sounds like a rom-com cliche, but is completely transformed by the wonderfully human interplay among the actors. Howard has always had a magnetic talent, but Tatum reveals an engaging vulnerability that contrasts nicely with his big-slab-of-beefcake look. The movie hearkens back to 1970s classics like Midnight Cowboy and Dog Day Afternoon, and though it doesn’t achieve the same emotional heights, it’s reaching in the right direction. Writer/director Dito Montiel (whose previous film, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, also featured Tatum) promises to make some truly memorable movies. --Bret Fetzer
Stills from Fighting (Click for larger image)
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