This Grossly Underrated Boxing Flick Deserves Another Look
Following his action packed cult classic Road House, director Rowdy Herrington followed that up with this under-the-radar gem that came and went with little attention during it's initial theatrical run. I do recall renting it often on VHS, as did a whole bunch of my friends, yet all these years later, nobody ever talks about it. And to be honest, I have completely forgetten about this one myself. That is until Crackle threw it on this months lineup, and I immeidately jumped on it. So let's dig in.
I'll just make this short and sweet. Gladiator was awesome. It delivered in every way that made it such a memorable experience, and after finally getting to revisit it, I'm shocked it doesn't get more love.
Beginning with Herrington's exceptional visuals, Gladiator is a feast for the eyes. Shot during the winter cold in Chicago, IL, the film makes life in Chicago look miserable, yet visually haunting. Herrington teamed up with cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Silence of the Lambs), and the result is an exquisitely dark and gritty film, much like Silence of the Lambs, where the visuals tell just as much of the story as the writing does.
I think one of the most endearing aspects of this film is it's surprisingly powerful script, courtesy of Karate Kid creator and screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, who's also a frequent Luc Besson collaborator who also helped create and write the Taken and The Transporter franchises. On the surface it's a pretty straightforward story about loss, betrayal, friendship, revenge and redemption, but it's in Kamen's clever and heartfelt script that ties it all together so effortlessly, without wasting a single minute of needless exposition. The film plays out smoothly with no hiccups, never missing a beat and culminates in such a satisfying finale that I wanted more.
While James Marshall (Twin Peaks) won't win any best actor awards here, he does a helluva job as the lonewolf lead, a kid plucked from his suburban upbringing and dropped into ghetto hell where his "white boy" image makes him stick out like a sore thumb. If I'm not mistaken, this might have been the only film Marshall starred in, which is surprising because there's a quality about him that you don't see very often in actors who climb their way up from supporting roles. It's a shame he didn't get to go onto bigger and better things, because he has the goods. He just needed the opportunity to prove it.
While Marshall was pretty good in the lead, it's in the supporting roles that Gladiator really shines. For starters, there's the one and only Robert Loggia, here playing the "sketchy recruiter", who does a fine job constantly yelling and being aggressive. The real highlight though is Brian Dennehy, as the man in charge of the underground boxing ring, who easily shifts from charming to ruthlessly brutal in a wink of an eye. I've seen plenty of roles with Dennehy, most recently in the pilot episode of the excellent 80's cop show Hunter, and I always seem to forget how great he is as the villain, even though he mostly plays a villain.
If you're in the mood for a great flick with heart, action and plenty of style, give this one a shot. It's a severely underrated gem that seems to have slipped through the cracks of sports films that benefits from both raw and incredibly seasoned talent that ultimately is better than you expect going in.
How to see it:
Released on VHS and DVD, which you can pick up really cheap, it has yet to get a Blu Ray upgrade, which it could really benefit from since it's a visually arresting film. Currently it's streaming for FREE on Crackle this month (October), in HD, so I'd take that opportunity before they get rid of it by next month.