Posted: Friday, May 5, 2017 – 11:37 AM
In the film Chuck, Liev Schreiber portrays Chuck Wepner also known as the “Bayonne Bleeder,” a has-been club prize fighter who is, thanks to promoter Don King, taken from obscurity and offered a chance to fight of all people, Muhammed Ali. It’s the chance of a lifetime and since Wepner is not “bloody stupid,” he accepts, much to King’s delight who promotes the match with the slogan, “Give the White Guy a Break.”
The main drawback to Wepner, as a fighter, is that he’s a bleeder, hence his monicker. He turns the fact that he can take a punch in the face and bleed profusely into a living. In Werner’s last match before fighting Ali, he received 120 stitches. His opponent was Sonny Liston. Wepner wasn’t a bad fighter–30 wins and 9 losses, just not very good and only a few IQ points smarter than the corner stool.
His wife, Phyllis, a bright and savvy Elizabeth Moss, is wonderful. (It is said that Wepner on the eve of the Ali fight told her to wear her sexiest nightgown because that night she was going to sleep with the “Heavyweight Champion of the World.” Following the 15 round match resulting in 23 stitches and being knocked down for the only time in his career, he returns to their hotel room and there is Phyllis in her slinky nightgown. She looks at his battered face and asks: “Okay big shot, do I go to Ali’s room, or does he come to mine?”) Eventually, Wepner’s drinking and penchant for women, leads to a divorce.
The movie loses some of its momentum following the bout as Wepner turns to drugs and petty crime. Watching Anthony Quinn’s masterful portrayal of Louis ‘Mountain’ Rivera in 1962’s Requiem For A Heavyweight over and over, doesn’t help the slow demise of Wepner. He befriends a beautiful bartender and begins a relationship with Naomi Watts (one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and talented actresses), who is given much too little to have any positive effect on the film.
In the end, it is Schreiber’s excellent portrayal of Wepner that is the focal point of the film. He is Wepner. He is a consummate actor who delves into his role and makes Chuck a far better movie than it deserves to be. It was believed that Wepner’s story was the basis for Stallone’s Rocky films. In fact, he sued Stallone and settled out of court. If you are into boxing, go see it. If you appreciate terrific acting, definitely see it.
2-1/2 bagels and a shmear
Jerry Cutler, the Courier’s film critic, is rabbi at Creative Arts Temple.