Movie, Reviews

“Chuck” Greatness and Punishment

The real “Rocky” makes his bid for fame with the movie Chuck, the mostly true story of the prize fighter who went 15 rounds with Mahammad Ali in 1975. It’s the fighter that Sylvester Stallone carved his Oscar winning movie from and Chuck Wepner’s story comes to the screen more than 4 decades later. Well-acted directed and produced, the film has a lot of Hollywood heart and even more heartaches.

Chuck Wepner (Live Schreiber) was the heavyweight champion of New Jersey and nicknamed the “Bayonne Bleeder” from the beating he took in the ring. He was able to take a punch since he was a teen and when he stepped into the ring as a professional, took down nearly all rivals. The film shows his determination to get to the top with his trainer Al Braverman (Ron Perlman) at his side and his best friend John Stoehr (Jim Gaffigan) keeping him in line.

Chuck Wepner (Live Schreiber) with his trainer Al (Ron Perlman) in CHUCK

But it wasn’t easy to reach fame and when it got so close, it became the most elusive element of his life. Torn by a troubled need for “wine, woman and song” his personal story is like a separate movie in itself. Director Philippe Falardeau takes a script by Jeff Feuerzeig (director of The Real Rocky documentary) and turns the film into a fine narrative with just enough fiction to add the heart and soul it needed to be a viable production for the big screen. He keeps his characters interesting and exciting making them as big as life.

Naomi Watts as Linda in CHUCK

Taking the punches as Wepner, Liev Schreiber gives one of his best career performances providing a close look at the famous fighter. He shows how Wepner prowls the ring against his opponents and stands toe to toe until he can get that last punch in for the win. Realistic and painful to watch at times, the bloody battles will make you cringe as he faces off with the likes of Mohammad Ali (Pooch Hall). What makes Schreiber believable as Wepner is beyond being convincing in the ring, he also has weaknesses as a father and husband who gets caught up in the fame, other women and being lured into drug addiction.

Chuck Wepner (Live Schreiber) and his wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) in a pivotal coffee house scene in CHUCK

Playing the part of his wife Phyllis, Elisabeth Moss shows how his loving partner put up with Wepner’s “greatness”. The chemistry between the two actors is outstanding showing how love becomes so powerful that it leads Phyllis to heartbreaking decisions, including to fight for him even in the worst of times. In one scene a confrontation in a coffee house puts their lives into perspective as their marriage starts to spiral downward. This is a good role for Moss sharing the lead with Schreiber and being the center of his family life. Hopefully it will garner enough attention to attract the awards shows.

Chuck has been rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexuality/nudity and some bloody images. Be cautious before deciding to allow immature to see the film.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good drama that was a long time coming.

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Jim Gaffigan, Ron Perlman, Pooch Hall, Michael Rapaport, Morgan Spector, Sadie Sink, Megan Sikora
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau
Genre: Biography, drama, sport
MPAA Rating:  R for language throughout, drug use, sexuality/nudity and some bloody images 
Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.
Release Date: May 19, 2017
Distributed by: IFC films

The comments within this review are the critic’s expressed opinion

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Film Editor John Delia has been on all sides of the movie business from publications to film making. He has worked as a film critic with ACED Magazine for more than 11 years and earned a Bachelors degree in communications from the University of Florida. John is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association. Follow John on Twitter @staragent1 or send John a message at jdelia@acedmagazine.com