THE STORY – On the day of his first fight since leaving prison, Mikey, a once celebrated boxer, takes a redemptive journey through his past and present, putting his own life at risk due to a medical condition only he knows about. Over the course of the day, Mikey visits influential figures from his life, encouraging him to overcome his checkered past. After a fight for the ages at Madison Square Garden, a twist of events reveals that this day was never really about boxing for Mikey. This is an underdog story built on introspection, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness which asks the question: how far are we willing to go for the ones we love?
THE CAST – Michael C. Pitt, Nicolette Robinson, John Magaro, Anatol Yusef, Steve Buscemi, Ron Perlman & Joe Pesci
THE TEAM – Jack Huston (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 108 Minutes
There has always been something about the nature of boxing that has drawn so many filmmakers to use it as a backdrop. It is a sport that carries an inherent cinematic value with its presentation. The conflict is plainly stated between two figures utilizing their physicality in order for there to be a single declared winner. It’s a pure form of storytelling, and the execution can present some vibrant imagery. All of this can also accompany a personal venture that gives greater richness to the characters themselves. It’s a familiar but reliable setting that a film such as “Day of the Fight” looks to operate within. It features some handsome elements but ultimately lacks a more engaging spirit to feel like a worthy entry into this landscape.
The central figure here is Mikey (Michael C. Pitt), a once celebrated boxer who hasn’t fought since leaving prison several years ago. His medical condition is one that strongly urges him to give up boxing because there could be fatal consequences. However, he decides to enter into one anyway for a highly publicized event with a big payday if he wins. During the day leading up to the big occasion, he meets a host of people who have significantly impacted his life. This includes his estranged ex-lover (Nicolette Robinson) still reeling from their combative relationship, a dear friend turned priest (John Magaro) who gives him salient advice, his coach (Ron Perlman) trying to keep his mind focused and encouraged, and his father (Joe Pesci), once an abusive force but is now in a state of infirm. All these players might provide Mikey with some form of redemption before he takes to the canvas and truly reveals his inner self.
Pitt has always been a fascinating actor, typically associated with odd characters with a dangerously seductive quality about them. That aura is not present here so much, and this portrayal is one that seeks earnestness within an arc of personal redemption. It’s a noble attitude that doesn’t yield the most compelling performance. One can certainly see the intention that Pitt aims to bring, but one feels at arm’s length with his rendition. It comes across as mannered and shallow in too many places. There are moments when he shines with some effective catharsis, but for the most part, he is merely a serviceable lead. The supporting cast makes a much more substantial impact. The scenes with Robinson convey a more genuine emotional tenderness, and the same is true for Pesci, who communicates so much with so little. Perlman is always a charming person to witness, and Magaro has perhaps the best performance, one that is so endearing and captivating in his brief role.
Jack Huston is mainly known as an actor but makes his directorial debut here. There is a high attention placed on the visual aesthetics, and the black and white cinematography does help to emphasize the more character-driven parts of the story. At the same time, the narrative itself struggles to break free from similar archetypes that boxing films have featured in the past. The road Mikey takes on is often lethargic in its revelations, leaving the pacing set to a tedious momentum. The screenplay is peppered with monologues that leave no ambiguity to the thematic commentary and plainly divulges the lessons with an overt stiffness. Even the fighting scenes, typically a highlight for a picture like this, are primarily uninspired in their presentation. One could find potential for Huston in the future, but this effort is shackled by weak characterization servicing a flat exhibition.
There isn’t a great deal in “Day of the Fight” that hasn’t been seen before. However, any story that trades in tropes that have been showcased in other works can find innovative methods in which to demonstrate the piece. Not much of that is found here, and Huston struggles to craft an engrossing tale. There’s a monotony in how this piece unfolds that isn’t buoyed by the leading performance. The supporting players provide a lot of charm to help, but it’s not enough to keep one fully invested. All the aspects are present to serve a moving examination in the boxing world, but they are not assembled in the most successful way here.