Rod Lurie Takes Jackson and Hartnett Nine Rounds

Maui Time | August 27, 2007
Rod Lurie (The Contender) puts another feather in his directing hat with an absorbing character study about a daily newspaper writer who takes a shortcut to success only to discover that, like the subject of his career-saving article, he is not the man he thought himself to be. Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) is a recently estranged sports reporter for the Denver Times whose prose lacks personality. But rather than take advantage of his demanding editor's (Alan Alda) best efforts to develop his writing style, Erik furtively leverages his way into a Sunday magazine features position with an article about former boxing-great-turned-homeless-bum (Samuel L. Jackson). Hartnett and Jackson deliver career height performances that bristle with the sting of life lessons learned the hard way.

On his way home from covering a boxing event, Erik witnesses a group of college kids thrashing a homeless man, and intervenes to discover that the elderly vagrant is former boxing champ "Battling" Bob Satterfield. These days, the Champ's prizefighting reputation periodically inspires young toughs to seek him out to boost their infantile egos by taunting him to fight. Convinced that he has stumbled into the story of a lifetime, Erik befriends the Champ, whom he visits for daily interviews when he isn't spending time with his young son Teddy (Dakota Goyo) and trying to win back the affection of his co-worker/soon-to-be-ex-wife Joyce (Kathryn Morris).

The specter of Erik's famous sports broadcaster father haunts him by the sound of his very name. No amount of ambition can remove the paternal blinders that hinder his progress in life. Erik is still searching for an individuality that he can own without having to fully commit. For Erik, the Champ represents a father figure, alter ego and meal ticket rolled into one. When Erik's loving essay, about the rise and unremarkable fall of Bob Satterfield, launches him overnight into the moneyed realm of television sports broadcasting, he waffles at a contract offer from the network's man-eating producer (Teri Hatcher) that comes with an unsubtle sexual overture.

Screenwriters Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett adapted their idea from a magazine article by newspaper reporter J.R. Moehringer, and took liberties in crafting a story that addresses the phenomenon of disconnect between father figures and their sons, along with America's atmosphere of media deception and hunger for fame. Unlike J.R. Moehringer's real life article, that won him a Pulitzer Prize, Erik Kernan's career insurance magnum opus turns out to be based on one very faulty premise. The public discovery sends Erik on a mission of eating humble pie and begging forgiveness from those closest to him. It also brings him closer to the Champ, upon whose identity he had hung his hopes. Erik's lesson in humility and ethics causes him to come clean to his son about certain lies he has told in order to win the boy's lasting respect. It's in these scenes that Hartnett gives himself over completely to the role, and the effect is unmistakable.

Resurrecting the Champ is an understated movie about the insidious nature of public and private lies. At a time in American culture when nearly every "truth" presented in a public forum contains a heavy dose of fiction, it is restorative to see a character take accountability for his actions with the understanding that the situation demands. The cost of Erik's mistake comes through in the eyes of his editor (beautifully played by Alan Alda) and gives the audience a sense of propriety that we should all expect from the once-lofty newspapers that we read. There's more to life than the pursuit of fortune and fame, or the pretense of either. Rod Lurie tries to revive common sense as a means to an end. He may not succeed completely, but he does make a convincing go at it.

Rated PG-13, 114 Min. (B-)

Maui Time

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