Friday March 31, 2000
Just as the endings of the big, climactic fight scenes in boxing movies all are preordained, so, too, are the plot mechanisms that get us there. A degree of predictability is built into the genre. How well these movies work for us, then, depends in large part on how much life filmmakers can breathe into ossified conventions.
On that score, "Price of Glory" wins points simply by virtue of its premise--the movie is set in a modest Chicano community in Arizona. For almost as long as Hollywood has existed it's spun out stories about urban Irish, Italian and, more recently, African American pugilists fighting their way out of their respective ghettos. You don't see many fight movies about Chicanos in tiny border towns.
That alone isn't reason enough to recommend it, but, luckily, "Glory" has more going for it than that, not least of which is a powerful and nuanced performance by Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega, the overbearing patriarch of a family that lives and breathes boxing.
Ortega's own promising career was cut short when a greedy manager put him in the ring with a raging dynamo before he was ready. Beaten badly--he's initially shown many years after that bout with a twitch that miraculously vanishes--Arturo has placed all of his ambitions and dreams in his three sons.
That disappearing twitch is indicative of the kind of clumsiness that mars this movie, which sometimes looks and sounds like a less-than-distinguished television production. But the material is elevated by the acting (former Golden Globes boxer Jon Seda and Clifton Collins Jr. are also quite good as two of the sons) and by its visceral power, of the fight scenes especially. "Glory" also packs an emotional wallop that sneaks up on you like an uppercut.
The movie's central focus is the way Arturo's single-minded pursuit of glory via the vehicle of his sons comes close to tearing the family apart. Its central weakness is a script (by former New York Times sportswriter Phil Berger) that goes badly off track midway.
First-time director Carlos Avila moves "Glory" swiftly in the early going through the boys' youth, showing how Arturo drove them mercilessly, often expressing his love in a way that looks more like cruelty. Then the boys grow up. Arturo still tries to dominate and mold their lives, but they have developed wills of their own.
One son has gotten married and pulled away somewhat from his dad; another rebels and goes into a tailspin; and the third, the youngest (played by newcomer Ernesto Hernandez), becomes the superlative fighter Arturo wants him to be. An unscrupulous boxing promoter (Ron Perlman) and his henchmen add a sinister and deadly twist.
Like Arturo, the movie doesn't allow any of the sons enough room to develop. It tries to juggle too many story lines while also keeping Smits front and center. The narrative thread frays and very nearly breaks.
Whether it regains its footing for you will depend on how powerfully the concluding fight scene and the emotional buildup to it connects. That will vary with the individual, but it tore me up.
It's common to talk of the "crossover potential" of movies like this. "Glory" sprouts so clearly out of the bedrock of American myth and culture that to speak of it as somehow marginal or specialized offends common sense. The film deals with notions--fathers and sons, the resilience of family, a child's longing to break free--to which anyone can relate.
To watch the way Arturo's excessive pride and need for control edge close to destroying his family is to witness nothing less than a contemporary American spin on Shakespearean themes. The specificity of "Glory's" setting and the ethnicity of its characters enrich the story without moving it one iota away from a mainstream frame of reference.
Price of Glory, 2000. PG-13 for violence, language and brief drug content. An New Line Cinema release. Director Carlos Avila. Screenplay Phil Berger. Producers Moctesuma Esparza, Robert Katz and Arthur E. Friedman. Cinematographer Affonso Beato. Production designer Robb Wilson King. Editor Gary Karr. Music supervisor Margaret Guerra Rogers. Music by Joseph Julian Gonzales. Costume designer Ruth Carter. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega. Maria Del Mar as Rita Ortega. Jon Seda as Sonny Ortega. Clifton Collins Jr. as Jimmy Ortega. Ernesto Hernandez as Johnny Ortega. Ron Perlman as Nick Everson.