Directed by Phillipe Falardeau.
Starring Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan, Morgan Spector, Pooch Hall, Zina Wilde, Sadie Sink, and Naomi Watts.
A drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner.
Are strong acting and unrecognizable familiar faces enough to push a film over the hump from bad to good? Usually yes, but Chuck (also known as The Bleeder in other territories) is a rare sort of misfire that only has the talent in front of the screen going for it. Directed by Phillipe Falardeau (The Good Lie and Monsieur Lazhar), notable names such as Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Ron Perlman, and more have all gone through impressive physical transformations, whether it be from physical makeovers to New Jersey accents and more, and while they all generally seem to be firing on all cylinders including having excellent chemistry with one another (Naomi Watts, the real-life wife of Liev Schreiber also has a supporting role), the execution of the storytelling sucks away all potential drama.
Logically, Chuck should be a much easier film to generate emotional investment for considering that it is based on the real-life story of Chuck Wepner, more specifically honing in on his mighty levels of fighting endurance that allowed him to go the boxing distance (almost even becoming the heavyweight champion at one point) with Mohammed Ali, and the sordid aftermath that ensued from his newfound local celebrity status; after all, his unparalleled accomplishment would go on to become the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s screenplay for Rocky. And while some sections of the movie fare better than others (during the drugs and alcohol rock bottom period Chuck decides to get in on the Rocky sequel bouncing around ideas with a fictional Sylvester Stallone, which is probably the high point of the biopic), far too many are simply headscratchers.
For whatever reason, director Philippe Falardeau makes the creative decision to implement Chuck narrating his life story to the extreme degree that at times it feels as if we are watching a boxing epic inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The problem is that all of the narration feels wildly out of place and adds nothing. Sometimes, it even detracts from the experience, as evident during the centerpiece battle with Mohammed Ali that features nonstop talking over all of the hard-hitting punches and knockouts. Due to this, the pivotal bout and such an important part of the film as a whole fall flat.
This could be forgiven as technically Chuck isn’t a boxing movie, but entertainment centered on the drug and alcohol fueled, self-destructive lifestyle that cost the titular warrior everything worth cherishing in his life. Except supporting characters make far too many irrational decisions, namely Chuck’s wife Phyliss played by a Jersey-accented Elisabeth Moss who deserves much better than this material. Citing one primary example that begins the downfall of Chuck, both the movie and film is Phyliss’ willingness to forgive him for cheating and emotionally hurting their family (they also have a daughter). Before the battle with Mohammed Ali, she does leave him after catching him in the act, but decides to show up to the fight anyway without much persuasion from a mutual friend. That isn’t to say I am doubting that this actually happened, I am actually just going to assume that it did because the film is based on true events, but that there isn’t enough strong character writing in the script from the crowded team of four writers to instill believability and reasons to invest.
The result is mostly 100 minutes of watching a loathsome character continue his downward spiral into drugs and alcohol, giving audiences little sympathy to go on. There is no explanation as to why he feels the desire to mess around with other women, but even more disturbing is that he’s got some rapey vibes to him that apparently should be overlooked because he’s a macho boxer that can take a beating. With that said, sporadically throughout the film are a few emotional moments (especially Chuck attempting to stay a part of his daughter’s life) that work from the foundation of good writing and excellent acting in execution.
However, everything surrounding these few and far between engaging moments deserve better; there is truly an amazing story to be told regarding Chuck Wepner, but the way to do isn’t with excessive narration and by ignoring the majority of the motivations, struggles, and desires of his family and friends. Michael Rapaport has a role as Chuck’s brother that should be much larger in the bigger picture simply because the two create fireworks together during heated arguments, so it would be nice if the character wasn’t an afterthought given very little to do. From a general outline, the story here is fascinating and worth telling (especially on the big screen), but the journey of Chuck is full of bumps, bruises, and bleeding.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★