On the QT: Tarantino's top 5 fight flicks
By Robert Ecksel on March 29, 2020
Tarantino was rewriting history like a coke fiend in a think tank. (Photo: Stacia Loshkareva)
Quentin Tarantino failed to predict the future, but he succeeded in mangling the past. Like Tarantino, I remember the good old days, the days when men were men and women were men. But while I was searching for squaws and whatnot, Tarantino was rewriting history like a coke fiend in a think tank. From “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) to his most recent film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019)—where the Manson murders have a happy ending, go figure—his quirky vision has drawn an audience predisposed to blood, gore, and improbability. And while “Pulp Fiction” (1994) guarantees his place in the pantheon of cinematic achievements, it is, after all, Tarantino’s “Citizen Kane,” he has never made a boxing movie, at which we might be disappointed or thankful.
But with boxing, no less than cinema on ice during the pandemic, the legendary Hollywood director, producer, screenwriter, actor and editor weighed in with his favorite top 5 boxing movies.
“If we talk about boxing and cinema,” said Tarantino courtesy a compilation from the WBC, “the first thing that comes to mind is ‘Rocky’ (1976), by far the most successful boxing film in history. The story of the Italian-American boxer Rocky Balboa was written and starred by Sylvester Stallone, in the role that catapulted him to stardom. ”
No argument there. Were it not for ‘Rocky’ and its spinoffs, hordes of fight fans might never have found their way to boxing.
“The story of the film mixes the necessary ingredients to be liked by the majority of the public. The humble who attains fame with the strength of a pure heart, a love story behind that takes relevance in a super emotional ending and some action in a fight worthy of the great boxing evenings in the history of boxing.”
I thought the action in “Rocky” was cartoonish, something worthy of Popeye and Bluto. But Tarantino sees the big picture. He watches the bottom line. “The film won three Oscars and was a huge box office success,” he said, “as well as being the kickoff for its sequels.”
The second film on Tarantino’s list is one of the finest fight films in recent memory. Directed by Clint Eastwood, “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) is chamber cinema at its most eloquent. Based on a short story by F.X. O’Toole, with a screenplay by Paul Haggis, it too abandons verisimilitude in deference to plot, but doesn’t sugarcoat the sport for mass consumption.
“If we talk about big box office hits,” said Tarantino, “we cannot fail to mention ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ the film directed and starring Clint Eastwood, where he is presented as the trainer of a female boxer who must take to the top.
“The performances by Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman are the ideal complements to this film, which once again presents us with a story behind it with a very strong and somewhat controversial emotional charge.”
The third film on Tarantino’s list is “The Fighter” (2010). Based on the true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale won a best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal), in addition to the always excellent Amy Adams as the woman in Micky’s life, it’s impossible to not like this film. The scenes in Lowell, Massachusetts, are themselves worth the price of admission.
“‘The Fighter’ is one of the movies in this genre that I liked the most,” Tarantino said. “Christian Bale’s performance is almost perfect and the film has, once again, all the necessary spices to keep you hooked during the 116 minutes the film lasts.
“The story is based on real events and tells about two low-level boxing brothers with very different personalities who unite in the face of adversity to position the youngest of them to stardom.”
Tarantino’s fourth choice was a film I feared.
“Once again a story inspired by real life was captured in the cinema, this time by director Ron Howard and with the leading role of Russell Crowe in the shoes of boxer James J. Braddock.
“The movie is called ‘Cinderella Man,’” Tarantino said.
Then he explained.
“Endowed with the tenacity that only a man can feel when seeing his family in the worst conditions, Braddock decides to expose his life to get out of such a pressing situation facing the dreaded Max Baer.”
Talk about reductio ad absurdum. Tarantino barely addresses the plot. Forget about the aesthetics and moral of the story. For such a wild and crazy guy, it looks like Quentin Tarantino is at heart an old softy.
“The film did not have the best critical reception and was challenged by champion Max Baer’s characterization, but it is one of boxing’s most exciting stories on the big screen.”
The film “Cinderella Man” was a big sloppy kiss on the lips from a sparring partner. It didn’t receive the “best critical reception” because it didn't deserve the “best critical reception.” It was sentimental, conventional, smarmy, a Depression-era movie for modern times and hard to pull off. Maybe it needed a director who was bullied as a child. Or a director who had been fondled. But why “Cinderella Man” would be on anyone’s list of favorite boxing movies—least of all a list by the esteemed Quentin Tarantino—is beyond me.
There were only five designated slots for favorite fight films available. QT had one left. Some bona fide classics, films like “The Harder They Fall,” “The Set-Up,”“Requiem for a Heavyweight”and many more ended up on the cutting room floor. I didn’t expect Tarantino to unearth Alfred Hitchcock’s silent “The Ring” from 1927 to make an obscure point, but a little imagination would have gone a long way.
The last film on the list is a movie one either loves to hate or loves to love or loves to death.
“At the end I leave the ace up my sleeve,” said Tarantino. “One of the best movies of all time, with a perfect performance by Robert De Niro, the direction of Martin Scorsese, and the mythical story of Jake LaMotta. The movie is ‘Raging Bull’ and it doesn’t have a single second of waste.”
Can a factual story can be mythical? Maybe cinema makes it so. But De Niro, Scorsese, LaMotta, Joe Pesci—bring it on.
“Based on the former champion’s biographical book, LaMotta’s life is worthy of a movie of this caliber,” Tarantino said. “His problems in and out of the ring led him to be one of the most recognized personalities in the boxing world.
“Definitely the best sports movie ever made.”
It’s hard to disagree. But even Jake LaMotta, either raging or inarticulate, had more to say about film than Tarantino had to say about boxing.
“My life story is now on film,” said LaMotta. “The movie is called ‘Raging Bull’ and I am played by superstar Robert De Niro. I told the producer I’d like to play myself, but he said, ‘Jake, you’re not the type.’"