GREST PERFORMANCES (CONT.)
New Jersey club fighter Chuck Wepner briefly achieved celebrity status, twice: when he was plucked from obscurity to fight Muhammad Ali, and when that fight was used as the inspiration for Rocky. So this story of “the real Rocky” dodges familiarity by making familiarity part of the text, which is sort of genius. It also has the good sense not to take itself too seriously; Jim Gaffigan and Jason Jones turn up in supporting roles, and one of the four screenwriters is Jerry Stahl. One of the others is star Liev Schreiber, who’s flat out excellent at not only conveying Wepner’s neighborhood-guy charm, but at delivering his wry narration, which borders on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang levels of self-awareness. It’s less successful when it gets more serious, but when Chuck finally drops the bravado and talks straight, it has power; he hits a point when charm and semi-celebrity aren’t good enough, and that’s a real redemption arc.
Abundant Acreage Available
Angus McLachlan’s low-key character study is a bit of a throwback, reminiscent of those ‘80s save-the-farm movies, but “old-fashioned” isn’t exactly an insult here; this is a modest story, but one rooted in big emotions. (It’s also kind of a hoot that it sports an executive producer credit for Martin Scorsese – it’s hard to image a story further removed from his wheelhouse.) Amy Ryan and Terry Kinney, two of the finest character actors on the planet, turn in grounded and heartbreaking performances as brother and sister farmers, still mourning the recent loss of their father when three older men show up to lay a claim to their land. McLachlan’s absorbing script knows the sound of rural chit-chat and formality, the tensions and assurances of these interactions, the things they’re all dying to say but are just too polite to manage. Some of the plot turns stumble, but the mood is rich and the performances are excellent – particularly Ryan, who sounds notes that are quietly dazzling in their complexity.