What is in a name? I think it varies from person to person. Still, there are specific names that we almost all seem to associate with specific characteristics. I remember a joke I once heard the great comedian George Carlin make. To sum it up, he thought that the best name for a guy would be “Chuck Stake.” Maybe he was right, if the name Chuck Wepner means anything.
Wepner was not just considered a man’s man, but also a true American figure of folklore. As I once heard a narrator say in a certain football documentary series, “The underdog is part of what makes us American.” Possibly the most ironic detail in all of this is that “Chuck” is based on the true story of the real man that the iconic figure “Rocky” was based on.
Instead of asking people if they remember who Chuck is, we have to ask them if they remember who Rocky is, so that we can THEN talk about Chuck Wepner.
Philippe Falardeau is the man in the chair for this edition of sports biographies. Although his most recent film was “My Internship in Canada,” for most American audiences, “The Good Lie” is probably the one most would recall. Several worthy individuals were a part of the production team, but the one which stands out the most is Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan”), who also stars as the titular character.
Joining Schreiber are: Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) as Phyllis, Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy”) as Al Braverman, Naomi Watts (“The Book of Henry”) as Linda, Jim Gaffigan (“Hot Pursuit”) as John Stoehr, Michael Rapaport (“Sully”) as John and Pooch Hall (“Ray Donovan”). Let us be real, though, without Schreiber as Chuck Wepner, this movie does NOT rise above mediocrity. Obviously, the title role matters.
With all this time to let the film set in, I must say that I do not find much of the movie, itself, too memorable. This does not mean that “Chuck” is a bad film. In fact, I would still recommend it to anyone who is either a fan of the sport of boxing or just a fan of movie-watching, in general. None of the performances were bad, but outside of a handful of scenes, I can only remember their faces and very little of their actual performances. I would say that Rapaport made the greatest impact, in a secondary role, for the amount of screen time he actually had.
I think the most I that I can take away from “Chuck” is the conveyance of the tragic nature of this man. Like so many other people of the profession of boxing, Wepner came from a tortured past and probably wound up better than he would have, had he not turned to boxing, but his past manifested itself when he was in his most vulnerable moments and THAT became his downfall. It seems that the shorter the sequence of retribution is in films like these, the most likely it is that the victory was not as sweet as it might have been. Think about THIS: unlike biographical films such as “The Raging Bull,” “The Fighter,” “Hands of Stone” or “Bleed for This,” “Chuck” is about a man who gained his fame because he ALMOST made it.
When you watch “Rocky,” you see that as the story unfolds in the sequels, Balboa DOES eventually become a champ. THAT is not reality. At least not for THIS guy. I can only wonder what Chuck Wepner, himself, would say was and/or IS his greatest achievement in life. I would like to think that he would not say it had anything to do with his boxing career. You see, we are MORE than what brings us fame or infamy. We live in a society that uplifts a short moment in each of our own lives, whether it is something good or bad. “Chuck” is really about what surrounds that moment for one particular man.
By the end of the story, you might not remember JUST that moment, as you may have before. He was known as “The Bayonne Bleeder.” Indeed, there IS something to be said for the way we are known or remembered. Who, amongst us, truly prefers to be known by a negative, as opposed to a positive? Perhaps Mister Wepner is actually satisfied, after all. Did you know that the term “Christian” was originally coined as a sarcastic nickname for followers of Jesus Christ? You tell ME if any real Christian still considers that label an insult. “Chuck” is NOT an insult to “The Bayonne Bleeder,” but I predict that this movie will be lost in shuffle of other boxing films, especially the one which was inspired by the man, himself. Art imitates life, once again.
Director: Philippe Falardeau
Screenwriters: Jeff Feuerzeig (“The Devil and Daniel Johnston”) and Jerry Stahl (“Permanent Midnight”)
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Elizabeth Moss, Ron Perlman, Naomi Watts, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Rapaport, Pooch Hall, Morgan Spector (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Sylvester Stallone, Jason Jones (“The Detour”), William Hill as Paddy Flood and Wass Stevens as Johnny Dicesare
Distributor: IFC Films
Release: May 12th, 2017