Chuck, under the directorial vision of Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie), is an entertaining piece of history into the highs and lows of the life of New Jersey State boxing champ, Chuck Wepner. This story is akin to that of the Greek tale of Icarus. A man who has his moment in the sun, but soars too high to sustain the rise, inevitably plummeting back down to earth. A liquor salesman and ranked 10th boxer in the world, Chuck Wepner is on the cusp of his rise to fame.
Chuck Wepner is the “Bayonne Bleeder”
Right away, the atmosphere and visuals pulled me into the backdrop of the 1960’s and 70’s. From the style of clothing and vehicles to the use of actual boxing footage from the era. Each breathed a bit of authenticity into the experience.
Chuck Wepner, was born in a place that guaranteed you’d see an altercation come to blows more often than not. Growing up on the streets of Bayonne, New Jersey, is where he learned to take a hit. His “never back down” attitude and penchant for being bloodied quite easily, earned him the nickname the “Bayonne Bleeder”. Chuck took offense to the label and considered it derogatory. The nickname would follow him throughout his career. Use of the perceived slur would often cause him to get riled up, even at his fans.
“That guy could take a punch,” seems to be a ringing endorsement for Chuck’s life as a whole. It would also be his claim to fame in the historic match for the title versus Muhammad Ali. Going fifteen rounds with the world champ and knocking him on his ass twice, would bring him a bit of celebrity. This new fame and the outside influence of those riding the coattails of it is what would eventually lead to his misfortune.
The Fame, the Fall
I was pleased that the film focused less on the boxing aspect and more towards the over-burdened ego of the title character. Yet another classic pitfall of instant fame and celebrity status, each scene captures the immaturity, selfishness and self-absorbed attitude possessed by Wepner. Chuck Wepner’s womanizing, drug addiction, and out of depth persona is competently displayed. This contributes to the development of the character and is portrayed aptly by Liev Schreiber.
The marriage of Phyllis and Chuck is blatantly on edge from the jump. You could tell right away that Wepner was not prepared for marriage. He seems to find more comfort in the company of other women. Phyllis, played amazingly by Elisabeth Moss, shows an actual deep love for the Jersey Champ. The neglect and witnessing of Chuck’s spiral into cocaine addiction is a bit too much to take. Eventually reaching a point where she’s forced to call it quits.
A Star is Born
The Wepner-Stallone relationship was succinctly observed to great effect. Rocky became an acclaimed hit in 1976. Wepner loved the film and immediately began to draw comparisons between himself and the title character. Stallone, unofficially, had based it off of the Wepner-Ali fight and even opted to put Chuck into Rocky II. Due to his drug habit at the time, the audition had disaster written all over it. Between slurring his words and not knowing the lines, the silver screen was seemingly not in the cards for, Mr. Wepner.
It got to the point where the Bayonne Bleeder began confusing his own life with that of the Italian Stallion. He even felt the need to take credit for the movie’s successes without ever actually receiving any. It’s not until watching Stallone filming Lock Up from the very same prison, does Wepner finally realize that Rocky is only a fictional character.
Thus realigning Chuck Wepner with reality, he goes on to pull himself out of the muck he had drug himself through. While participating in a charity event, he’s reunited with Naomi Watts’ character, Linda. Though more detached from the perils of his fame, Linda carries the right values, showing to be the perfect compliment to his persona. Finally sober and content with his life, Chuck marries Linda and they remain happily so to this day.
Though not considered a masterpiece, overall I would recommend giving Chuck a viewing. With a competent script and superlative acting performances, you could do far worse in the restricted niche of sports-related movies.