Paul Burress, Preston Hocker, Nahshon Nicks, Reverend John Duffell
Daniel Junge, Bryan Storkel
"Fight Church" Fights Against the Grain
Co-directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker Daniel Junge (Saving Face) and Bryan Storkel (Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians), Fight Church is, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, almost exactly what it sounds like it's going to be. The film is a feature-length documentary that examines the weaving together of Christianity and Mixed Martial Arts and, yes, there are churches that have developed actual fighting ministries for their congregants.
For the most part without taking sides, Junge and Storkel look at the issue through the lives of three specific men including Paul Burress, who aspires to being a professional MMA Fighter, amateur fighter Preston Hocker, and Nahshon Nicks. Burress, a pastor at Discovery Church in Rochester, New York is perhaps the film's most compelling figure. A passionate and devout pastor who preaches that life is a fight, Burress openly uses his presence in MMA to spread the gospel and has no problem reconciling MMA with his faith. The same is very much true for both Hocker and Nicks, though the film's most fervent endorsement may very well come from former MMA fighter John Renken, whose aggressive defense of it almost borders on jarring and who believes that Western Christianity has feminized men and that the Bible doesn't support it (though he doesn't actually serve up proof of it).
On the flip side, Fight Church gives us Father Duffell, a Catholic priest who simply cannot reconcile the extreme violence of MMA fighting with Christianity. Strangely, he also doesn't really approach his belief from a scriptural perspective but comes at it from more of a generalized disagreement.
Junge and Storkel spend the vast majority of Fight Church content to stay in an observational role, weaving the film from character to character and allowing each individual enough time to fairly clearly show their strengths and weaknesses yet never allowing them to become a caricature.
If I have one beef with Fight Church it's that it never really goes deeper. While I'm a fan of trusting one's material, I found that by the end of Fight Church I had more questions than answers and an unresolved sense of the film itself. The film toys with the concepts of masculinity and Christianity and how the two can possibly co-exist, but it really doesn't go anywhere with it all. The film's tone, especially in scenes with Renken and a brief foray into legalization of MMA in New York, is inconsistent and ranges from incredibly low-key to over-stylized to almost whimsical.
Fight Church is a good film, but it's more an introduction to this topic than the well-rounded documentary that I was hoping for when I sat down to watch it. While the film's inherently intriguing subject matter and well chosen characters keep us watching, for a film about fighting it seems that Fight Church has more bark than bite.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic