Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Jim Gaffigan, Naomi Watts, Michael Rapaport, Pooch Hall DIRECTED BY
Philippe Falardeau SCREENPLAY
Jeff Feurzeig (Written by), Jerry Stahl (Written by), Liev Schreiber (Written by), and Michael Cristofer (Written by) MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
98 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
IFC Films OFFICIAL WEBSITE
There are plenty of good reasons to step into the ring to check out Liev Schreiber's immersive, satisfying performance in director Philippe Falardeau's Chuck, an IFC Films release currently on an arthouse run that would be much more if there were any true justice in the cinematic world.
You know Chuck. You don't know that you know Chuck, but you know Chuck. Chuck is based upon the real life Chuck Wepner, a heavyweight boxer nicknamed "The Bayonne Bleeder" whose major claim to fame was having gone 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975, a moment of fame that would live on when Sylvester Stallone was said to have based the original Rocky on Wepner's story, a claim that was at first unacknowledged but would eventually be settled out of court.
Despite being quite the fine actor, Schreiber has never really been known as the most immersive of actors. Yet, here he is completely submerged within the being known as Wepner and serving up one of the most emotionally honest and satisfying performances of his career.
Much like the original Rocky, Chuck isn't at its core an actual boxing film. Chuck is a film about Wepner, a journeyman boxer and liquor salesman from New Jersey whose philandering ways cost him one marriage to Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) and whose mostly regional fame collapsed beneath him before he found love again with Linda (Naomi Watts) and a loyal crew that helped him get back on track including best friend John (comic/actor Jim Gaffigan) and manager/trainer Al Braverman (a superb Ron Perlman).
Chuck isn't a brilliant film. It's a good film about a not so good guy who tries awfully hard to become a better guy and, for the most part, actually succeeds at it. Director Philippe Falardeau, known for The Good Lie and Monsieur Lazhar, infuses the film with a 70's authenticity and light humor that works well and helps us like Chuck even when he's not being particularly likable. The film's 70's soundtrack peppers the scenery like the blood spatters so often found on Wepner's face, a perfect complement to Nicolas Bolduc's period perfect lensing.
The film is an obvious passion project for Schreiber, who also has writing and producing credits on the flick. You can feel that passion just about every time Schreiber hits the screen which is, fortunately, most of the time. Elisabeth Moss does a fine job as Wepner's first wife Phyllis, while Naomi Watts is given much more to do as eventual second wife Linda. What feels like odd casting is actually inspired as Jim Gaffigan as John, the kind of loyal friend that every Jersey boy is supposed to have. Pooch Hall, as Ali, and Morgan Spector, as Stallone, aren't given much to do at all here but make the most of their screen time.
At its heart, Chuck is a Rocky-like redemption story, though as is pretty much consistent with Wepner's tale there's likely to be little Oscar or box-office glory to be found here other than the immense satisfaction of a compelling story compellingly told. Sometimes, that's enough.