by HELEN GEIB
Some movies are described as love letters to New York. Fighting is not one of those movies. The title refers to the underground fights that bring the main characters together and for a time, ensnare them with the lure of easy money. But it also captures the condition of daily living in a clamorous, squalid city where rents are impossibly high, too many people are trapped in too small a space, and everyone’s a chiseler when opportunity presents. The only dream worth pursuing is getting out.
Fighting is familiar in outline: a young man, new to the big city, is recruited by a small-time hustler to contend for easy money in no-rules fights, gets a taste of the high life, meets a girl, and puts everything on the line for the big match. It is and is not the movie that summary suggests; there is unusual and compelling material within the outline.
The main point of interest is the “manager” character as acted by Terrence Howard in a performance of quiet intensity. Harvey scrapes by on the city’s margins, scalping tickets to Broadway shows, placing illegal bets, coordinating the activities of a small group of petty street thieves. He doesn’t like Manhattan (when asked if he’s from New York, he replies contemptuously that he’s from a city with some culture: Chicago) and hates visiting the boroughs. He moved to the city with big dreams, but he’ll never be more than small-time because he isn’t ruthless; his personality is defined by an unfeigned gentleness, his speech broken by barely perceptible hesitations.
Harvey is not the person we expect him to be and that makes the relationship between manager and fighter into something unexpected as well. If the younger man is not as interesting a character as his co-protagonist, the fault lies mainly in the script. Shawn, played by Channing Tatum, is the silent type whose reserve masks a well of deep feeling; he doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue and that keeps us from getting to know him as well we should. While the dominating strength of Howard’s performance makes Harvey the film’s center, Tatum’s performance contributes equally to making the one-on-one scenes between manager and fighter its highlight.
Fighting was written by Robert Munic and director Dito Montiel. Montiel’s direction, with assists from the cinematography and editing, is consistently modulated to match the tempo of the action. Particularly effective is the use of two-shots in framing Harvey’s relationships with Shawn and with Martinez, a successful hustler and one-time friend imbued by Luis Guzman’s performance with repellent self-confidence. Finally, the music sound track is excellent; it is a crucial part of the urban panorama and amplifies the dramatic intensity of the fights.