Fat City (1972)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Sports Drama  |   Release Date - Jul 26, 1972 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Elbert Ventura

One of the masterpieces of Hollywood's last golden age, John Huston's Fat City is the kind of film studios wouldn't touch these days: a small-scale character study about unlucky men living on the margins. Set in a rundown California border town, the movie follows the trajectory of Tully (Stacy Keach), a farm laborer whose once-promising boxing career was derailed by booze. Tully's dismal wallow in limbo contrasts with the halting rise of Ernie (Jeff Bridges), a fresh-faced rookie trying to make it big in the low-stakes world of small-time boxing. Graceful, dignified and seemingly effortless, Fat City finds Huston at the top of his game. A model of understatement, it's a movie of indelible, unobtrusive details, like the thick layer of smoke hanging over a dingy boxing arena, or the slouched silhouettes at the local tavern on a lazy afternoon. Laced with empathy, these moments all add up to a fully realized portrait of failure. Huston is aided immeasurably by his cinematographer, the great Conrad L. Hall. From the Hopper-esque light on an empty city block to the seedy murkiness of dive bars, Hall achieves a gritty, naturalistic look that, like Huston's direction, never calls attention to itself. With its relentlessly downbeat tone, Fat City at times threatens to verge into self-parody (the recurring Kris Kristofferson song, "Help Me Make It Through the Night," doesn't help). For all the potential for bathos, however, the movie remains impressively dignified and self-possessed, and stands as one of the high points of Huston's illustrious career.