Reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’ (or I should probably say that that’s the other way around), ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ is a dark and moving film about the price one pays in a particular field and the overwhelming destitution one can suffer when their run of luck is officially over.
It’s bleak, but hugely impactful.
The film centers around a heavyweight prize fighter named Louis Rivera. It opens on the eve of his final fight. A couple too many blows to the face and the doctor advises him to never fight again. One more punch and he could wind up dead. His trainer is insistent that he heed that advice, but his manager and supposed friend Maish needs him to fight, somehow, in order to pay back a gambling debt to the heinous Ma Greeny. Louis, in search of other work, comes across Grace Miller at a temp agency. She takes a shine to him and wants to help him take his life in a different direction. Sadly, her attempts are met with Maish’s influence and he does not want her to succeed.
The film is filled with brilliant moments that all add up to one beautifully effective film. As some have already mentioned, the stairway confrontation between Maish and Grace is one of the greatest moments in screen history. It is brilliantly acted and conveys the heart of the film with such urgency. The final frame, that depiction of Louis’s eventualities, is heartbreaking in its ability to convey the destitution and apparent hopelessness of his character.
A major plus here is the acting from the entire cast. I mean, how they all missed out on Oscar recognition is beyond me. Mickey Rooney, who is often remembered for his hammed up breed of comedy, delivers such a raw and emotionally heavy performance as Army, Louis’s sad trainer, and Jackie Gleason is perfectly layered as the conflicted and somewhat corrupt Maish. Julie Harris is beautifully invested as Grace, serving as the moral epicenter of the film, and Anthony Quinn handles Louis with pitch perfect realism; giving him a soul instead of a gimmick. Not to mention director Ralph Nelson’s commendable handling of atmosphere, which created such a rich portrait of the downtrodden.
Aces; this film is just aces!