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FAT CITY is a powerful and gripping story about personal wins and losses in the raw, rugged world of mateur boxing. Directed by legendary, Oscar®-winning filmmaker John Huston (1948 Best Director and Best Screenplay, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), the film stars the incredible talents of Stacy Keach (American History X, TV’s “The New Mike Hammer”), Jeff Bridges (Jagged Edge, The MirrorHas Two Faces), Candy Clark (At Close Range, American Graffiti) and Susan Tyrrell (Cry-Baby, Powder), in her 1972 Best Supporting Actress Oscar®-nominated performance.
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The story of "Fat City" involves two men, both boxers, who are at different points on the same arc. Billy Tully has had a brush with a modicum of success but has long lost whatever gift took him even that far. Ernie Munger, ten years younger, has his youth to award him a glimmer of hope but more than likely he will be lucky to achieve even the level of mediocrity Tully climbed to. Interconnected with these two characters are the women they become involved with and the usual boxing hangers-on - the trainers and managers whose meager dreams are built on the Billy Tullys of the world. There is very little plot to speak of, the narrative following Ernie's entry into boxing and the responsibilities of adulthood, and Tully's last few grasps in the ring to rise above the laborers he picks vegetables with at ninety cents an hour.
Whereas the novel is able to directly express the inner lives of its characters by sharing their thoughts and histories, the film is forced to leave much of this content out, relying on visual details presented through Conrad Hall's brilliant cinematography to create its texture of lives gone to seed. The film's screenplay, also written by Gardner, takes its dialogue directly from the novel. Both the novel and film are more about mood or tone rather than plot. There is no conflict or tension to propel the narrative forward. Nothing much happens. We are just given a glimpse into a world. The novel's superiority might be due to the slightness of the story flattening out even more on screen.
The performances in the film are exceptional, with Susan Tyrell, Stacy Keach and Nicolas Colasanto being particularly outstanding. One minor complaint would be that for a film that strives for realism, many of the boxing sequences, particularly those involving Jeff Bridges, are somewhat unconvincing.
Some works of art, for whatever reason, touch you at a level that transcends their actual merit. For me "Fat City," both the novel and the film, achieve greatness because they are examples of that type of art.