The incredibly lame and uninspired title, combined with what appears to be a completely generic plot, seems like a definitive warning against paying money to see this movie. So, you might wonder why I did, and the reason is very simple: the last time that Dito Montiel wrote and directed a movie (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints), not only did he manage to give emotional potency and verisimilitude to what looked like another run-of-the-mill, throw-away drama, but he also managed to get a very good performance out of actor Channing Tatum (whose work in movies like She's the Man and Step Up left a lot to be desired). As it happens, with Fighting, he's working with the same genre and with the same actor, so I knew I definitely had to give the movie a chance. I was still skeptical, though, because of two reasons: 1) it was apparently a movie about fighting that, even worse, was titled Fighting, and 2) last year's Stop-Loss made me lose faith once again in Tatum's ability to perform well. Fortunately, however, Montiel doesn't disappoint in the least bit, giving us a film that is every bit as good as his prior effort, and with Tatum giving a lead performance that is just as good as the one he gave the last time he was directed by Montiel (if there's any doubt that even the worst of actors can be directed to a good performance by a talented director, here's all the proof you need).
Authentic dialogue and a gritty/realistic depiction of life in the city were prevalent in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and they come across just as effectively in Fighting. Of course, the trailer is leading people to believe that the movie's all about the fighting sequences, which is deceptive as heck; there are, in fact, only three fighting sequences in the entire movie. What's even more interesting is that the fight sequences are the least refined element of the movie. They are very restrained, not really featuring that much intensity, or showing that many cringe-inducing moments in which the audience will go "Ouch, that must have hurt!". The downside to this is that it'll disappoint those who go into it looking for a bunch of awesome street-fighting scenes (and, um, given the title, it's pretty fucking understandable that a lot of people will go into the film hoping for this), but the upside to it is that it made me happy, because Montiel chooses instead to have the dramatic, dialogue-driven scenes be the more refined aspects of the movie. The relationships of Shawn (Tatum) with Harvey (Terrence Howard), the scam artist who inducts him into the world of street fighting, and with his love interest Zulay (Zulay Valez) are handled expertly well. Even the twist of sorts that comes across towards the end, and involves a secret that Harvey and Zulay were keeping from him, is handled with finesse, despite representing a convenient tweaking of the plot.
Dito Montiel already has an in-development project for 2010 titled The Brotherhood of the Rose (hey, at least it's a better title), and apparently, that movie will star Channing Tatum yet again, and seeing how well the actor-director collaboration has unfolded in these last two projects, I think it's definitely something to look forward to. While A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was an effective dramatic examination of several characters, the individual character study that we get in Fighting works just as well. The horrible title will make many people stay away from it, and it'll make others go see it and then be disappointed by the somewhat inert fight sequences, but others will feel rewarded by the solid script and the quality of the performances.