Avisual metaphor for surpassing oneself, boxing has always had a special relationship with cinema. But can noble art still be original? …
For decades, American cinema has seized the figure of the boxer, often stuck between courage and inner demon. And if the 70s / 80s gave pride of place to victorious heroes, many directors have looked at the gloomy daily life of some of these modern-day gladiators. This is how films like The Fighter (David O. Russell) or From Shadow to Light (Ron Howard) were able to give depth to their protagonists, like Raging Bull (M. Scorsese) in his time. .
But Hollywood studios have above all always had the ambition to repeat Rocky’s feat . Work that nobody wanted to believe, the feature film gave rise to one of the most prolific sagas of cinema. Its shadow still hangs over the current production as evidenced by the vitality of the genre ( Creed , La Rage au Ventre …).
If it initially takes on all the paces of a classic ” rise & fall “, Outsider is not a boxing film. By telling the story of the real Chuck Wepner, an average fighter working as an alcohol trader who managed to hold 15 rounds against Mohamed Ali, Philippe Falardeau delivers an interesting reflection on the creation of the status of icon. Although he won a good part of his official fights, the “Saigneur de Bayonne” stood out above all for his ability to take real punishments without falling to the ground. His courage against the greatest champion of the time has indeed largely inspired Sylvester Stallone for his character of Rocky .
The director never dwells on the noble art, and wraps this famous confrontation in about ten minutes before really starting his story. No hyper energetic editing against a background of symphonic music, nor a fatherly relationship with his trainer. Falardeau is interested in man. We can of course reproach him for avoiding these moments which certainly had to take place, but this scriptwriting choice has the merit of taking the majority of recent genre films on the wrong foot.
Outsider uses a clever setting in abyss to scratch the Hollywood myth machine. Wepner lives through a movie, claiming to be “the real Rocky” , which he is even though he hasn’t received a dime from this immense critical and commercial success. Ready to lie about the fees he has received from the actor, the fighter gradually lets appear another vision of these “incredible true stories” that we so often simmer in the cinema.
Falardeau manages to grasp all the absurdity of the situation, by emphasizing a dichotomy between the one who suffered… and the one who imitated him. The film thus clearly fishes on the sport itself, but thus turns out to be an ingenious biopic, an exercise just as difficult.
Liev Schreiber probably delivers his best performance, and even makes us forget a rather high-sounding achievement. Usually confined to fairly light supporting roles, he manages here to embody a kind of seducer a little clumsy and sure of himself, ready for all for his part of dreams. His good nature doesn’t prevent him from being dramatically convincing when confronted with prison or the women who revolve around him, impeccable Elizabeth Moss and Naomi Watts.
A fake boxing movie, but a real good biopic, Outsider takes the side of the absurd to describe the life of the real Rocky. Carried by an astonishing and well-surrounded Liev Schreiber, Phillipe Falardeau’s film delivers a sensitive look at a colorful man, forced to live in the shadow of a fantasized career. We would have appreciated a little more oomph, but it’s worth it (straight).