A young sports reporter struggles with ethics and the seductive power of fame in a new film co-starring Josh Hartnett and Samuel L. Jackson. Inspired by a true story, the sentimental drama is directed by Rod Lurie, a critic-turned-filmmaker whose work includes the politically-themed 2000 hit The Contender and the TV series Commander in Chief. Alan Silverman has a look at Resurrecting The Champ.
Erik Kernan covers local sports for a Denver, Colorado newspaper. He turns out a lot of stories and always makes his deadlines; but fails to impress his brutally honest (if somewhat heavy-handed) editor.
Erik's late father was a legendary sportscaster and, like so many who follow in a parents' footsteps, the young reporter is determined to establish his own reputation ... and he is desperate to win the admiration of his own young son. He gets that opportunity after a chance encounter with a homeless man, whom Erik saves from a beating by local college kids.
A former contender now living on the streets sounds to Erik like the perfect story for him to break through to the big time - not on the sports page, but for the paper's more prestigious Sunday magazine.
It becomes the magazine's cover story and Erik becomes the star he dreamed of being; but reality brings him crashing down when, it turns out, his facts are wrong and 'The Champ' is not who he claims to be.
Josh Hartnett plays the ambitious young journalist.
He should have found these things and it was shoddy journalism; but I think that was the point of the piece," Hartnett says. "He has a lot of talent but he hasn't learned how to 'man up' and take responsibility for his own actions. It parallels his relationship with his son and his wife. He is much more likely to take the easy way out: try to act impressive and not necessarily be impressive."
Samuel L. Jackson co-stars as 'The Champ,' whose true history, once revealed, causes the reporter to examine his own motives; but Jackson says to his character the truth is not so inconvenient.
"In this world that he lives in he has be 'Champ' for so long that he is something of a celebrity. He is still 'Champ.' He does not have a lot of real problems," says Jackson. "He is not bitter about where he has been or how he got there or what happened. He understands what all that is and his place in the world. This place in the world just doesn't happen to be his. It happens to be somebody else's.
Director and co-writer Rod Lurie says the issue of journalistic ethics may frame the story, but it is the fathers-and-sons angle that he identifies with most closely. He has a teenage son and Lurie's own father is renowned political cartoonist and journalist Ranan Lurie.
"Every father wants to be the best that he can be. We all want to be heroes to our sons and I think that gets us into a lot of trouble sometimes (if we think) that's more important than who we are," he says. "Our sons will love us no matter what. We will be heroes to them no matter what. The message I am trying to get across is: 'don't try so hard. Your children are going to love you. You are their dad.' Eventually, if you are dishonest with them they are going to figure it out."
Tapping into those emotions can turn the storytelling sentimental; but Lurie is proud if, as the orchestral strings well up, the film has fathers dabbing away at tears.
"For most of the movie it takes a pretty realistic, grounded in reality state of being. It is toward the end that I wanted to uplift. I'll tell you something: whenever you make a movie it is all about manipulating. That's all that it is," Lurie says. "Any time there is music in a film it is done for effect ...for artistic and emotional effect. Any time anybody gives a performance or where I put the camera ...people call it manipulating the audience, but I don't view it that way. I view it as working with the audience to achieve a common goal ...a community of emotion."
Resurrecting The Champ also features Alan Alda as the crusty sports page editor. Teri Hatcher, of TV's Desperate Housewives, plays a TV producer who offers the young reporter a bigger audience (and bigger fame); and the film features cameos by real-life sports personalities including American football star John Elway and (on the telephone) legendary boxer Jake LaMotta.