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. 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).
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.E
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 of this fault 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.
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.EMTW