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Grudge Match (2013) – Sylvester Stallone – Robert De Niro BOXING MOVIE REVIEW

By Gina L. Caliboso

As my previous article stated, I took a hiatus from boxing. But again, due to certain challenges, I failed to make it to the movies. The choice to not go to movies was purely financial. Movies are truly a luxury to me. Here in L.A., my local theatre is a luxury theatre where you can drink alcohol, eat upscale theatre fare food, such as nachos or quesadillas, and have the food delivered directly to your reclining seat, and finally, after a few overpriced badly mixed cocktails, you can watch the movie.

But I can’t afford the price of admission. Somehow, over the holiday, I managed to go back to seeing movies again – but not at the luxury theatre. I saw “47 Ronin” with Keanu Reeves because I simply love samurai stories. It is in the second movie, “Grudge Match,” that my love for and pure enjoyment of boxing and movies became reunited all in one fairly fun and sentimental homage to both the Rocky and Raging Bull films.

If anyone has ever watched any boxing film, it’s usually Rocky and Raging Bull that have set the standard for the genre. A boxing movie has us rooting for the underdog. We want to see all the hard work pay off for the better fighter. We get mad at the personal issues that a fighter might have to battle in and out of the ring. Who doesn’t like to hear the sound of the Rocky theme song? As for the Raging Bull? Robert DeNiro played bull warrior Jake LaMotta, who fought against Sugar Ray Robinson six times. How did he do against Robinson? Their last fight was called the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

It’s absolutely perfect casting to pit Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro against one another as Henry “Razor” Sharp and Billy “the Kid” McDonnen. Using our thoroughly modern technology, characters Sharp and McDonnen have a grudge match against one another as revealed in an episode of “Fight Game with Jim Lampley.” Henry “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) walked out on a third decisive rubber match against Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (DeNiro). I don’t like spoilers, but the rest of the film has the viewer wondering, or as we boxing fans like to ask, why did Sharp decide to pull out of the fight? More importantly, usually and sadly, boxers live with that grudge to their own character. What’s really at stake for a fighter to call it quits? What’s it mean to a boxer to have the last fight taken away?

In “Grudge Match,” any boxing fan can see how much the boxing game has changed. It’s a movie about the old school fighters with the same old grudge, the same old fight, showing a new world expectation. These two old school fighters are fighting under a different world of promotion. It was huge for Muhammad Ali to taunt his opponents. Remember Roberto Duran and his ‘no mas’ behavior? Now, due to social media, viral videos, and the grind of promotion, it’s truly in bad character to hate your opponent, but it’s also part of the appeal. My favorite part of the movie includes the two aging fighters promoting their fight at a UFC fight with big mouth Chael Sonnen wanting to take both fighters. It was hilarious for both Sharp and McDonnen to say how they don’t get MMA and took verbal jabs at the entire sport. Boxing vs. MMA is a debate I participate in often. I get away with it because I watch both.

There is of course, the son of a promoter, Dante Slate JR, (played by Kevin Hart) who is counting on these two aging fighters for a huge payday. It seems his father, who also promoted Sharp and McDonnen’s prior fights didn’t leave much financial security.
And, let’s not forget there is the resolute and humorous presence of the trainer Louis “Lightning” Conlon (played by Alan Arkin and bravely stepping into the Mickey Goldmill comparison) who assists Sharp in his return to the ring. Kim Basinger portrays Sharp’s love interest. By the way, McDonnen and Basinger’s character had a fling. I won’t go into detail about that, it’s an important detail, but one that affects another detail which is a spoiler.

There are a number of Rocky references that I noticed immediately. Boxing films always carry an extreme level of detail for training methods. I’ll just mention pounding raw meat. Sharp’s trainer prevents Sharp from pounding meat and says he doesn’t have to hit everything. Funny. At least I found it funny.

But bear with me on this for a moment. “Grudge Match” is not a heart-wrenching, root for me, boxers have a rough life movie. I found it much more than that. With the emotional and personal connection I have for boxing, the film brings to light about the reality for a boxer once that final bell rings. It’s the same for all of us that ever felt a little bit down, or perhaps regretted a choice that was made – even against our will. “Grudge Match” stirs up that emotion of deciding to feel right about what you did in the past, doing your best in the present, and especially where you plan on going – letting go of what happened and moving forward. But in a boxing career, as in life, you have a turning point. For both Sharp and McDonnen, aged boxers they may be, the story lies in what happened to them after the final bell rings.

It is in that discovery, I found the appeal of this film, and I had a huge grin on my face. I’ve been a boxing fan for a good part of my life. The reason for the smile after I saw the film? We’re all just old school, living in a new world of values and changing technology.

For me, “Grudge Match” was also about two men, two fighters who are former boxers, but with the entire cast of characters, there is a common thread. It’s a new world out there, but there a lot of us old school individuals, who have accepted where they are, getting on with things, and living on their own terms. Simply deciding to do so can often be the biggest challenge we could ever decide to do. We all have a fight within us. It even feels like we’re all underdogs for the moment, but we root for ourselves to battle and win. And, as boxing films show, it’s within ourselves to truly decide how we’re going to feel after the final bell rings.

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