Resurrecting the Champ is a stellar drama and lesson in morals; something we are sorely lacking in the world today. Rarely these days does an overwhelming theme stick with an audience, but this film is refreshing in that its characters own up to their faults and fully realizes the scope of their actions. Only a slow second act keeps this one from truly busting through the seams.
Based upon the Los Angeles Times article by journalist J.R. Moehringer, the screenplay follows Erik (Hartnett), a sports writer at the fictional Denver Times who is constantly living in the professional shadow of his father, who was a beloved radio voice. Fed up with covering small-time boxing matches and desperate to further his career, Erik is looking for a groundbreaking story. Luck turns in his direction one night when he meets Champ (Jackson), a homeless man who says he’s legendary boxer Bob Satterfield. Erik convinces him to tell his story for his article, “Resurrecting the Champ,” but things don’t go as planned.
The bulk of the film deals with Erik and his family life, which is both good and bad. He has consistently lied to his son, Teddy (Goyo), about his status in life – he has convinced his child that he is best friends with John Elway and was once Muhammad Ali’s golf partner. These tales come back to haunt Erik when the story takes an unexpected twist and he must do the right thing to save his reputation.
It would be easy to say that Resurrecting the Champ could have worked better with more boxing and less family drama, but this is all-around compelling storytelling. The screenplay by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett is well-written, if not extraneous. The middle section lags as Erik makes an uninteresting appearance on a Showtime boxing broadcast and the family tension rises, but the lessons we take away are what’s most important.
Samuel L. Jackson is astounding as Champ. Several of Jackson’s role choices have made us forget just how talented of an actor he is, but here he delivers Oscar-caliber work as the homeless man who still sees himself as the champ. Looking weathered, ragged, and speaking with a high-pitched mumble, Jackson makes Champ into a true force; one we can’t stop listening to. His comedic lines (there’s a running joke about “irony”) are delivered to perfection and Jackson embodies every molecule of the character. Josh Hartnett continues to improve as an actor and plays Erik with heart and sensibility. Excellent supporting work is turned in by young Dakota Goyo, the veteran Alan Alda, and Kathryn Morris.
Those expecting a straight-up boxing drama may be slightly disappointed in Resurrecting the Champ, but the moral convictions resonate beautifully. The characters are wonderfully well-drawn and Champ himself will be ingrained in your memory for quite some time. Resurrecting the Champ isn’t quite a TKO, but it’s certainly a swift uppercut for those who yearn for a well-made morality tale.
Studio: Yari Film Group
Length: 111 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some violence and brief language.
Theatrical Release: August 24, 2007
Directed by: Rod Lurie
Written by: Michael Bortman & Allison Burnett.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, Dakota Goyo, Alan Alda, Rachel Nichols