One who forgives an affront fosters friendship, but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend.
Desire without knowledge is not good, and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way.
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
1 Timothy 6:9
Do not be misled by the title, this is not really a boxing film, but one about relationships—between a reporter and an ex-boxer, fathers and sons—and the truth. Some have called the film “corny,” and they are right if they mean that the film packs in a lot of sentiment. However, I found it moving and challenging. Based on an article by J.R. Moehringer that was printed in the Los Angeles Times Magazine ten years ago, the film includes a surprise, as well as insights into relationships, both to other people, and to truth.
Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) is a reporter on the fictional Denver Times whose ambition seemingly outruns his talent. When he asks his editor Metz (Alan Alda) why his current boxing story was buried deep inside the paper, Metz tells him that he appreciates his efforts, but that his writing is unimpressive: “I forget your stories while I’m reading them.” Not exactly the kind of encouragement a writer welcomes. In his personal life Erik is faring even worse—he is living alone, separated from his wife. He is especially anxious about his relationship with his young son Teddy (Dakota Goyo), lest he lose touch with him as he did with his own father, once a popular radio sports commentator in Denver. And then comes the night when Erik makes the discovery that could be the answer to all of his problems and desires.
While leaving work Erik comes upon an old black man in the street who has just been beaten up by several young white thugs out to prove themselves. As Erik helps him up and tells him he should go home, the man replies, “I am home.” Nick-named Champ (Samuel L. Jackson), he identifies himself as Bob Satterfield, once a boxer with a large following. Erik gives him some money and leaves. Later, when Erik tells others about the man, he is told that everyone thinks that Satterfield is dead. Sensing a story, Erik finds Champ again and asks more about his past. Champ regales him with tales of being Rocky Marciano’s sparring partner and going into the ring against Jake “Raging Bull” LaMatta and other big name fighters. Erik proposes that he write an article about him, but Champ is reluctant, until Erik pleads, “This article is my title shot!”
Erik does not tell Metz about his writing plan, though he does tell his ex-wife, Joyce (Kathryn Morris), also a Times reporter. Also, over lunch while pitching several story ideas, he tells Whitley (David Paymer), one of the editors of the newspaper’s magazine, about his getting to know Bob Satterfield. Whitley also had thought that Satterfield had died, so he becomes very interested in the proposed article. As Erik, with the assistance of a woman in the research department, digs up information on Bob Satterfield, he and Champ draw closer. But not too close, as he does not take up young Teddy’s suggestion that Champ come live with the boy and his mom. Erik tries to do a telephone interview with Satterfield’s son in Chicago, but the man utters an expletive and hangs up.
Enthusiastic about his subject, Erik rises to the challenge, turning in a well written article that becomes the cover story of the newspaper’s magazine. Champ is pleased to see it, and Metz is surprised and a bit taken back that Erik never mentioned it to him. The story is read around the country, and first to call him is Showtime executive Andrea Flak (Teri Hatcher) who offers him a spot as a commentator on an upcoming boxing cablecast in Las Vegas. Erik is on top of the world, his son proud of him, and his colleagues congratulating him. And then the bottom drops out of his life.
How Erik deals with what follows, and the reaction of those most upset by his article is a fine example of grace and courage. Moving scenes deal with Erik’s threatened relationship with his son Teddy, with Champ, and with the truth; and his struggle with temptation, one that lies at the very heart of his career ambition. Plenty to see and think about—and hopefully, to talk about with a group.
Readers who have not seen the film are STRONGLY urged not to read this section until they have seen the film. There is a surprise plot twist, so reading on could spoil your enjoyment. However, in order to provide questions/suggestions for discussion this must be dealt with below.
1) Do you think Erik takes Metz’s criticism of his writing seriously? How is such advice just what is needed at times (such as “Recognize your weaknesses and fix them.” )? How have you dealt with such criticism yourself? Shrugged it off, or did you find it helpful by making you look closer at your work or life?
2) How do we see that Erik has a kind heart when he first meets Champ? What do you think might have been the reasons for his separation from his wife Joyce? What seems to be his biggest concern arising out of the separation?
3) Father-son relationships are important in this film: Ø What was Erik’s relationship with his father? Not an ideal one is it, when most of what he knows of him consists of tapes of his broadcasts? What had the father done in regards to his family?
Ø What is Erik concerned about with his relationship with Teddy? What do you think of Erik’s lying to Teddy about his being friends with sports celebrities? How is Erik almost caught in this lie when he and Teddy are in the restaurant? Why do you think Erik has been lying to Teddy? Do you think this is a temptation for parents?
Ø What other son plays an important role in the story late in the film?
4) How is Showtime executive Andrea Flak’s job offer a danger to Erik’s soul? How does her comment that he is “on the way to a Pulitzer Prize” increase his temptation to accept? What probably would have happened to his relationships if he had taken the position?
5) Were you surprised to learn the truth about Champ? How did he use Erik—and Erik use Champ? What does this show about the quality of Erik’s reporting? What is the number one priority for a news reporter? (How is this “getting it right,” that is getting the facts, important to us all—for instance, in dealing with the many stories that are spread through the Internet?) How does Erik measure up in regards to truthful reporting—by what he does immediately after learning the truth about Champ?
6) Late at night Erik pours out his regret to Joyce: have you been in such a situation and found sympathetic help from someone like her? How do you think he handles the task of telling his son the truth about himself and the article?
7) How does Erik redeem himself in the confrontation with Bob Satterfield’s son? How is this a good example of Erik’s dictim, “A writer, like a boxer, must stand alone. The truth is revealed, and there is nowhere to hide.” How have you had to stand alone at times, owning up to responsibility for something of which you were not proud? (For those who have seen the film Dead Man Walking compare this scene with Sister Prejean’s dogged determination to get Matthew Poncelet to accept his responsibility for his incarceration,)
8) The prophet Micah wrote, “Put no trust in a neighbor, have no confi
dence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth.” (Micah 7:5) How could this be good advice for a news reporter such as Erik so that he will check, check, and check his/her facts?
9) Who helps Erik deal with his anger and his broken relationship with Champ? How does this illustrate Proverbs 17:9? (Or if you prefer a gospel text, Matt. 18:21-22.)
10) How are Erik and the Champ both better persons by the end of the film?