AGAINST THE ROPES
Inspired by North America's most famous female boxing promoter in a sport dominated by men, this is a fictional story about Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan) who takes promising boxer Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) to boxing fame, with help from veteran coach Felix (Charles S. Dutton). And Kallen doesn't have an easy time of it....
Review by Louise Keller:
Jackie Kallan was always a woman swimming against the tide. A tough woman lured into a man's world where the punches are not limited to the ring, she made history by becoming an integral part of the profession, moulding and motivating boxers. From making the deals to screaming instructions ringside, this is a far cry from the cursory ornamental roles played in the sport by scantily clad buxom women. Against The Ropes tells Kallan's powerful and gritty story - from her struggle to be taken seriously, to the dizzy dalliance with fame when integrity takes a back seat.
When Kallan inherits a boxer for a borrowed dollar, her passion and ambition are all she has, as she is thrown headfirst into a dog-eat-dog world. Quick on her feet, she immediately recognises where the potential lies as she takes Luther by the scruff of the neck and pushes open the door of opportunity. She uses everything at her disposal: her contacts, her father's name, her charm and her wily business acumen. She is the Erin Brockovich of the boxing world.
While the story is not meant to be a factual recount, the script fleshes out Kallan's emotional journey and director Charles S. Dutton (who also stars as Luther's trailer Felix) hones in on the all-important relationship between Kallan and Luther. (Kallan has a script credit and makes a cameo appearance as a female reporter.)
Meg Ryan is convincing as Kallan: she displays an exterior hard-as-nails toughness that becomes all heart as she learns the hard way that your word is everything. Like Erin Brockovich, Kallan's skin-tight, short skirts make a statement, never wearing the same outfit twice. We understand every aspect of the relationship she builds with Omar Epps' Luther (Epps is outstanding), and as she basks a little too long in the limelight, we know only too well what Luther is going through. Dutton's Felix is immensely likeable, and there's a satisfying balance in the development of the triangular relationship between the three of them. Each so different, yet it's together as a team they are able to achieve. I like the scene that exemplifies their differences, as they each select the (poles-apart) music of their choice on the car radio.
Tony Shalhoub is as good as ever, and here his arrogant boxing promoter gives us plenty to be rooting against. There is great anticipation as the build up to the climactic middle-weight championship begins, and we are not disappointed. Dutton creates extraordinary excitement - the crowd wants blood - and we all know there is much more at stake than winning the fight. Like Kallan, we can hardly bear to watch as the punches devastate, and the emotional payoff is huge as the fight draws to its sensational conclusion.
Against The Ropes is for the winner in all of us. It's a human story set on a boxing backdrop and you don't have to be a boxing fan to enjoy the fight.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Against The Ropes is in the same genre as Erin Brokovich - but not in the same class. While director Charles S. Dutton makes a good fist of it (he also delivers a typically empathetic character as the boxing trainer, Felix), the screenplay is a tad too shallow for the big screen. Ideally a telemovie (ironically, HBO gets its nose smacked for unethical journalistic practices), this biopic lacks the bio; the subject matter is Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan) who makes quite an impact in the world of pro boxing.
The problem is we never really get to know her as a person, not like we get to know Erin Brokovich, even though the wardrobe department does its best to do for Jackie what they did for Erin. It's just not quite enough, if anything, heightening our curiosity about her, rather than satisfying it. (Early images of her as a 12 year old in the gym, egging on a boxer like a grown up are not what I mean; these look a little ridiculous.)
Meg Ryan injects as much grit into her character as she can, but she doesn't have the material to work with, or perhaps Dutton didn't stretch her enough. For all its shortcomings, though, it's still an effective film, and if only expectations weren't shoulder high (as they are for all commercial release films today) this would be embraced as a decent 'B picture'. A lesser star than Ryan could have made the grade as the plucky boxing manager fighting male chauvinism and the odds.
The regulation tough guy promoter/manager is played by a huffing Tony Shalhoub, whose work is usually more subtle. It's Omar Epps as the raw talent turned into champ material by Jackie, who shines brightest here, with a performance that is complex and powerful (if a little too simplistically written).
Against The Ropes puts up a big finish in the ring, which is when we realise it's still more of a boxing film than a profile of Jackie Kallen.
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AGAINST THE ROPES (M)
CAST: Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Charles S. Dutton, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Daly, Joe Cortese, Kerry Washington, Sean Bell, Dean McDermott, Skye McCole Bartusiak
PRODUCER: Robert W Cort, David Madden
DIRECTOR: Charles S Dutton
SCRIPT: Cheryl Edwards
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jack N Green
EDITOR: Eric L Beason, Paul Covington
MUSIC: Michael Kamen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sandra Kybartas
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 5, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
VIDEO RELEASE: December 23, 2004