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Dvd: Fighting Tommy Riley

FIGHTING TOMMY RILEY has so many things going for it that it is amazing it didn’t do well in the box office. Perhaps audiences are tired of ‘boxing movies’ (‘Million Dollar Baby’ sort of usurped that position for a while), but this is not a typical boxing movie: Fighting Tommy Riley takes risks all over the place and that is what helps make it so fine.

Written by J.P. Davis who also plays the title role, the story is less about Tommy Riley than it is about his trainer Marty Goldberg (long-established fine character actor Eddie Jones): this is not a self promoting Rocky/Sylvester Stallone story, fine as that films series was. For a first time writer and actor and directed by first time director Eddie O’Flaherty and cast with unknowns except for Eddie Jones, this film is a ‘knockout’ (pardon the pun).

Tommy Riley is a young and gifted boxer on the skids, disillusioned by his loss at an attempt at the Olympic trials, an unfortunate lapse of self-confidence that has destroyed his relationship with his girl Stephanie (Christina Chambers) and forced him to do menial labor just to survive. Concurrently we meet Marty Goldberg, an obese, has been trainer who left the ring because of a dark demon he harbors and has turned to teaching high school English. Marty lives with his dog Lucy in squalor, surrounded by the many books he reads and quotes, memorabilia of a ruined career, and sleeping pills. His one friend is feisty Diane Stone (Diane Taylor) who Marty salvaged some time ago from her own downward plunge. Diane is a boxing promoter looking for a client. When Marty and Diane and Tommy collide the beginning of a vigorous training life begins and each of the three gains a resurgence of self-respect.

Both Tommy and Marty carry a load of baggage demons that eventually surface and as Tommy slowly builds as a fighter ready for competition, Marty’s devotion to the kid’s career becomes more than professional and an unfortunate but inevitable encounter changes their path toward glory. With Diane’s promotion Tommy gains the recognition of big time promoter Riley (Scot Belsky) and Tommy is torn between the promise of fame and wealth and his emotional commitment to Marty: his initial impulse to go with Riley (which is contingent on leaving Marty as a trainer) is met with resistance until Marty humbly encourages Tommy to go for his career rather than his obligation to Marty. The result of Tommy’s decision tells the story of the film and to reveal it would be unfair.

Eddie Jones and JP Davis are absolutely superb is these very demanding roles. Rarely as a film about sports been influenced by the presence of sexual preferences, and Eddie Jones handles this enigmatic characteristic with extreme sensitivity and makes us all feel his anguish at the slings that life has thrown his way. And the manner in which Davis finesses both the initial advances from Jones and then gradually alters his response in understanding Jones’ behavior is nothing short of miraculous acting. Director O’Flaherty has created a brilliant little film from Davis’ fine script and one can only hope there will be more collaborations as excellent as this.

The cinematography (Michael Fimognari) and musical score (Lee Sanders and Tim Simonec) keep the mood of the film flowing. Bravo to all concerned not only for a fine story well done, but also for the courage to focus on sub rosa sexual themes with all the sensitivity this film represents. Highly Recommended.

Grady Harp

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