Rob Reviews "Chuck"
You may not know it, but you actually know a chunk of director Phillippe Falardeau’s “Chuck” even without a trailer and before you enter the theater. Chuck Wepner was a heavyweight fighter who actually was less than twenty seconds of going a full fifteen rounds with Muhammed Ali immediately after Ali knocked out George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. From Bayonne, New Jersey, he was a hometown hero that was even dubbed “The Heavyweight Champion of New Jersey”. Also known as “The Bleeder” due to his propensity for being cut open during a fight (much to his chagrin), he was an unlikely opponent for The Greatest, and even more unlikely to go as long during that fight in Cleveland as he did.
OK, so take out New Jersey, replace it with Philadelphia, and you may think to yourself, “Rob, this sounds an awful lot like ‘Rocky,’ which won some Academy Awards and stuff”. Well, if you did, give that person a Kewpie Doll. Upon hearing Wepner’s story, Sylvester Stallone adapted it into his coming out party of a film. But that is just the beginning of story of “The Real ‘Rocky’,” and it is brought to life by Live Schreiber along with Elisabeth Moss as his wife, Ron Perlman as his trainer, Pooch Hall as Ali, and Jim Gaffigan as his best friend and confidante as well as Naomi Watts and Michael Rappaport.
I am constantly amazed the Schreiber does not get more high profile roles. He does star in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan,” but from a big screen standpoint, this guy could be one of the most underrated actors of our time. In this role, he absolutely commits all in to play Wepner as a guy who is so focused on his sport that he is borderline obsessed with it while at the same time continually having no real grasp on how to come with all that the sport carries with it physically, socially, and mentally. And his voice even takes on the character when one realizes that this is the same guy that is the voice of just about everything sports oriented on HBO. Moss is a perfect yang to his yin as the wife that sees the good in her man but wrestles within herself as far as how much of his activities she can stand. I truly feel like she is right on the edge of becoming one of those upper echelon actresses that cannot keep up with the demand, and this role could push her clean through that barrier.
The real great performance for me here comes from Gaffigan, who really is carving some great roles for himself that are helping give him some separation from his comedy career. He DOES play the sidekick here, but John is more than just comic relief for Chuck; he is also the diesel fuel to the bonfire that is Wepner’s addictions while truly trying to be supportive of his best friend. John thinks he is doing the right thing but could not find (much less be) a moral compass due to his desire to simply see Chuck be happy and upbeat. I am a huge fan of Gaffigan and to see him get the opportunity for films like this and the upcoming tale “Chappaquiddick” is refreshing and overdue.
Although the pacing does get weighed down a bit and the Ali fight seems to come WAY too early in the story, “Chuck” is a good film that does tell the story of the man who was almost the heavyweight champion of the world (inside reference to the film that references another film) with gravity and fairness. I would love to see this film escape the art house circuit that it seems to currently be on with a larger release that could lead to some recognition later, so let me play my part in helping get the world out for it!