Fat City (1972)

Director: John Huston . Based on Fat City by Leonard Gardner
Starring. Stacey Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrell, USA. 1h 36m.

There’s something magical about John Huston’s Fat City. I’m not sure if it’s the relatable characters, which are more realistic than cinema usually allows, or the detailed social dissection  by the masterful Huston himself. For years I had overlooked this believing it just is another poor relation to Rocky, but in fact it’s the opposite way around. I have always adored the Rocky story that eventually turned into an epic Saga which is still going 40 years later, a man with true grit and determination, rising up to great heights to live the American Dream and fighting with a true heart…

Fat City is Rocky in reverse, the characters are a bunch of losers but they don’t realise it, their big chance is just around the corner and they can see it through the bottom of their glass, but really it’s just a pipe dream. The film starts with aged alcoholic ex-boxer Tully (Keatch) going to the gym to spar and meeting up and coming Ernie (Bridges) they hit it off instantly and soon Bridges is off to train with Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto), his ex manager, a motor mouth with good intentions, who sees a lot of potential in the kid. But the manager has heart and a lot of talk but I think deep down he knows he’s a stepping stone to the top. Tully meets the overdramatic Oma (Tyrell) in a bar, the drunken pair hit it off and they soon pair up, but her cute vivacity turns into painful nagging and Tully  spends as much time working or drinking alone, pretty much back at square one. His job is whatever comes next, picking, planting, lots of physical manual labour and he can always be found with a bottle in his pocket. In the meantime, Ernie gets training and soon takes on his first professional fight.

Keach is brilliant as the down and out boxer, returning to his old vices and meaning the best just flows out of the character he produces. Good intentions seem to be the foundation of the movie, there are some upstanding and fine people here but they are just off kilter. They are all victims of some kind, Oma is unlucky in love and always picks the worst of two evils, Tully just wants his youth back, the ever hopeful Ernie but his struggle to the top might be a long one, but off his shoulders everyone is living their glory.

The interactions are faultless, Keach is highly energetic and a convincing drunk along with his co-star Tyrell, they make some real movie magic as the perfect odd couple. Fat City is incredibly desolate but painted through such rosy glasses that it’s comedic and the false joyfulness suggests that life is peachy. The realism is intense as the movie doesn’t strive to prove a point but instead it just shows that everyone is a fighter but we’re all at different stages of the boxers career and most of the stars in this film a punch drunk, each person being scrutinised over their depressive state and escape mechanisms and with the open ending it’s up to the viewer to imagine where they each end up.

Rating 8/10

RRocky (1976), Creed (2015), Grudge Match (2013),
L – A-Z of 1972, 70 for 1970,
5s – Stacey Keach, Jeff Bridges
Vs – Fat City Vs Rocky

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