Chuck (2016), also known as The Bleeder, is the story of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, real life inspiration for the Rocky Balboa character. This fact features in Chuck, as Wepner goes around taking credit for the film’s success, while in reality his own life is spiraling out of control. A boxing film within a boxing film, how meta is that? With a big name cast and a subject matter appealing to boxing fans, it couldn’t fail to hit the mark, surely.
Liev Schreiber plays Wepner, Elizabeth Moss his wife Phyliss, Michael Rappaport his brother John and Ron Perlman appears as Chuck’s manager Al Braverman. While Schreiber is brilliant, as are most of the cast in fact, the film is let down by one main issue: Wepner is not very likeable. Raging Bull syndrome. Sure, occasionally he has moments of good humour or pathos, but largely he makes increasingly bad decisions as if he’s been written by Thomas Hardy.
The actors do their best to keep up the interest but they’re let down by a hokey script and the film’s rudderless, slack storytelling. That is not to say there’s nothing good in the film, it is an interesting life story, and when you throw in all the things Rocky left out such as drink, drugs and womanising, it’s got an edge to it that a lot of boxing films do not have.
Wepner fights a bear. Wepner takes repeated, gory blows to the head (after fighting Sonny Liston Wepner needed 72 facial stitches). Wepner fights Muhammad Ali- his crowning glory and the inspiration for the Rocky film’s genesis. All in all a fascinating personal and boxing history, but it still suffers overall from his being a monumentally selfish bellend.
There’s also the other problem, Chuck is a boxing film where the boxing scenes don’t feel very real. The bear scene, somewhat understandably isn’t very believable. For a Hollywood effort like this, believable boxing scenes should be the minimum expected. Jawbone, a low budget British effort I have also reviewed, managed that on a much more modest expenditure.
Chuck Wepner’s story is interesting and for boxing fans that will probably be enough to keep them watching from start to end, but don’t expect too much of it, sadly. Overall the film felt too much like an episode of Schreiber’s TV series Ray Donovan, with fighting, drinking, drugs and womanising, but one where Ray Donovan is charmless and down on his luck. Whick Chuck is. Ultimately a little depressing. I’d rather watch Far From the Madding Crowd. Thomas Hardy did depressing better. 5/10