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A total knockout as a piece of well-made B-movie grit, Fighting focuses on two men living on separate edges of society who come together to make a killing in the forbidden world of bare-knuckle fighting. When con man Harvey Boarden spots raw street-fighting talent in the form of small-town dude Shawn MacArthur, the two team up by entering Shawn in the potentially lucrative underground circuit, a place where rich men bet on young brawlers who battle like pit bulls unleashed. With success comes complications, however, and Shawn ends up fighting not only for money but his whole future — which suddenly is very much at stake.


Rising young heartthrob Channing Tatum's (Step Up) raw star power blasts through the screen as Shawn, a role that thankfully calls for more complexity than just acting with his fists. Opposite Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard's (Hustle & Flow) Harvey, he steps up his game, and the two play off each other with ease, searching for ways to lift what is basically an action vehicle into something more emotionally involving and Rocky-esque. Certainly the highlights are still the intense and brutal fight sequences, but because Tatum invests more than just one note into his portrayal of a guy trying to work his way up from the streets into a better life, we are behind him all the way. In a case of a Zulay playing another Zulay, Zulay Henao is sweet and appealing as a girl Shawn starts dating between bouts, while Brian White is menacing and slippery as Evan Hailey, a key rival and protégé of Shawn's own estranged father. Also of note is Altagracia Guzman, who has a couple of very funny scenes as Zulay's disapproving grandmother.


The heart-stopping realism of the bare-knuckle fighting is refreshingly free of cinematic trickery and CGI assistance. It's raw and packs real punch, particularly during a sequence in which Shawn faces a formidable martial arts opponent but also in the climactic bout with Hailey. And fortunately, there are some nice twists along the way that keep this flick from drifting into complete predictability. Director Dito Montiel, who previously made the Sundance award-winner A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (also with Tatum), knows the New York street scene well.


Although richly entertaining, the film could have benefitted from a deeper look into this forbidden world of underground human fighting, which hasn't been explored much on-screen beyond the very unique take of David Fincher's acerbic Fight Club.


Aside from the powerful fisticuffs on constant display, it has to be Shawn's first encounter with Zulay's grandmother when he arrives unannounced for dinner. It's priceless stuff , serving to humanize him and ramp his score way up on the likeability meter.


Give credit to the filmmakers for the simplicity of the name. Fighting tells you everything you need to know.


Multiplex. Like any boxing match, it's more fun to watch with a crowd.



Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.