Review: ‘Chuck’ Isn’t an Average Boxing Film

Jacqueline Gualtieri ’17/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

For any of those who say that they’re just not interested in another boxing movie, let’s get one thing straight: Chuck is not just a boxing movie. Don’t try to compare it to Southpaw or Creed or even Rocky itself. Chuck is a redemption story that has more to do with a broken man and a torn family than anything that happens in the ring.

Chuck is the story of the Bayonne Bleeder, aka Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), aka the inspiration behind Rocky Balboa. As anyone in Bayonne in the 1970s would have said, Wepner was “the champ,” the heavyweight boxing champion of New Jersey. He battled Muhammad Ali for the title of heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Although he was told he had no shot, that he would be knocked out in seconds, he made it to the final round. Unfortunately, he ended up losing with only nineteen seconds left. He hadn’t gone the distance, but he made it farther than anyone imagined.

Chuck details all of these events, but that’s not where the real story begins.The first half hour of the movie reads like a very quintessential boxing film and that’s because it needed to be. The audience had to see just how close Rocky was to Wepner’s life. The only real change was Rocky’s triumphant win. Wepner spent the read of his life falling short, which is where the plot really picks up.

Liev Schreiber in Chuck. Photo Credit: IFC Films. 

Rocky was a hero, even to Webner.  While Rocky gained fame and prestige, Wepner’s life was overshadowed by his fictional counterpart. Little by little, he becomes the villain in his own story, while Rocky remains a hero. Schreiber’s depiction of Wepner’s descent is heartbreaking. He’s more than a man down on his luck. He’s lost everything. Schreiber becomes a man who is just barely holding it together. He’s fragile and broken and seems ready to snap at any moment.

Webner’s wife, Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss), and his other love interest, Linda (Naomi Watts), play the voices of reason throughout the film. They could have easily been relegated to side characters in a movie that is essentially about a boxer in need of redemption, but the two characters become more important than even Wepner himself. They give him a reason to get back up again. Both characters are strong, sarcastic, and never really need him in the way that he needs them.

There’s nothing about Chuck that is glamourous. Every setting is dim, adding to the rawness of the film. Even when Wepner is dressed in furs and gold chains, the filmmakers make the most extravagant clothing seem bleak. His apartment is all gray, his house was all gray. The only time the movie delves into more color is when we see Linda, who becomes the light in his life. More than anything else, she becomes his redemption.

The man who was Rocky and the man who wanted to be Rocky never have the redemption story that Rocky was given. His redemption is done mainly in his own mind, but Schreiber’s voiceover provides a somewhat too forward response to his climb out of the hole he had made for himself. It would have been better to see him start to reject Rocky, without Schreiber pandering to the audience. In real life, redemption is a more subtle thing. We don’t get to see inside someone’s mind to hear how they got better. We just see that they got better. To add to the realness the rest of the movie seemed to want, it might have been better to just let the audience speculate.

Chuck isn’t Rocky and Rocky isn’t Chuck. It’s not about the movie or the Oscars that Wepner never got to hold. It’s about a man who let himself become a character and then took his life back. Although much of the story is dark, his day in the sun comes, not in the way that Rocky’s did. But, in the same way that it’s hard not to cheer for Rocky Balboa, it’s hard not to cheer for Chuck Wepner.

Overall Grade: B 

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