When Dito Montiel made his filmmaking debut by adapting his 2003 memoir A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints into a slow burning, ultra-personal tale of life on the mean streets of Queens in the 80s and his broken relationship with his father, the fledgling writer-director earned comparisons to a young Scorsese – no small praise indeed! To follow that project up with a film about underground street fighting sounds like a bold move into commercial territory, but with his attention to the detailing of life on the streets of New York, Fighting has the potential to become something a whole lot more than a simple genre film.
Shawn McArthur is a shamed ex-wrestling prodigy who has fled from his hometown in Alabama to New York where he sleeps on the streets and works off it as a simple street peddler of whatever items he can get his hands on for the right price. One day he clashes with ticket tout Harvey Boarden and his homeboys that results in a few swift punches being flung. Seeing potential in Shawn’s physical prowess, Harvey offers the youngster a shot at earning real money in illegal street fighting, starting with a purse of $5,000 and developing into tougher and more lucrative bouts that culminate in a brawl with an obnoxious former wrestling rival that could change Shawn and Harvey’s lives forever.
Fighting certainly starts out in keeping with Montiel’s brooding street-level style as we’re introduced to Shawn Mcarthur and Harvey Boyden’s world and Montiel paints a purposefully intimate portrait of small time hawkers on the streets of New York, whilst offering glimpses of the history Harvey shares with the various level hustlers that populate the local community. It’s when focussing on this community that Fighting is at its most interesting as Harvey is a curiously restrained character given the nature of his business and Terrence Howard plays the role very well, adding a very understated dash of eccentricity and tiny splash of old-fashioned debonair to the role. Shawn Mcarthur is much less interesting, having a rather bland broken-family background and most of his emotional investment is placed in a rather sweet but completely humdrum romance with nightclub waitress Zulay, but with some interesting supporting characters and Montiel’s eye for earthy New York locales you can at least invest in the drama.
However, whenever Montiel focuses on the world of illegal fighting the grittiness and realism comes crumbling down and we’re dumped into a completely insipid and artificial hip-hop laced actioner that’s just not a remotely credible representation of underground fighting. The most crucial failing is that Shawn – who is supposed to be a gifted wrestler – barely has any technique and stumbles his way to victory, and yet we’re supposed to believe that people will line up and generate millions of pounds in bets based around his fights. Montiel’s attempts to portray an unglamourous organic fighting style results in tedious bouts that don’t feel choreographed and appear amateurish below the level of real street fighting – plus Shawn’s opponents are the thinnest cardboard cut outs imaginable: The Russion bare-knuckle boxer, the Asian martial artist, the burly grappling gangbanger, and finally a laughably one-dimensional former wrestling rival. Just 4 short bouts in a film called Fighting is simply not enough to satiate action fans and the drama never has a chance to settle because Montiel’s constantly switching focus to this ludicrous underground scene, making Fighting a lame duck rather than a contender.
The Disc: Universal have done a pretty good job with this 1.85:1, VC-1 encoded transfer, colours look bold and tightly defined and detail is excellent without exhibiting any obvious signs of noise reduction or edge enhancements. Contrast runs a little high and black levels are deep, but brightness levels and shadow detail are both very good. The print used is pristine and I barely clocked any scratch or pop at all, and grain is kept to a very light layer throughout. The only negative comment I can make about this transfer is that compression isn’t perfect, with some barely perceivable banding present and blocking in the darker regions of the image, but neither are strong enough to be an issue.
Fighting comes with a very good English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that has plenty of punch in the fighting sequences and also does a great job with the film’s rather varied soundtrack, with the sound in general being aggressive when needed and naturalistic when needed. The soundstage is pretty enveloping and effective at plonking you in the middle of a bustling New York street, and audio dynamics are also quite strong whilst dialogue remains clean and audible throughout. Extra Features amount to no more than some short and unremarkable deleted scenes, there are no interactive extras in the form of Universal’s U-Control or My Scenes feature.