On the Ropes (1999)

Genres - Sports & Recreation  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Social Issues, Sports  |   Run Time - 120 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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If documentaries got pitched to studios, this one might have been described as "Hoop Dreams with boxers." On the Ropes adopts the same format as that seminal 1994 basketball documentary, as producers/directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen choose to follow three volatile young athletes without any possible awareness of where the story will go. It's captivating to watch the unexpected events unfold. It's also commendable that the filmmakers didn't abandon Tyrene Manson, arguably the most driven of the three, when she was falsely arrested for drug possession near the start of filming. Instead, they shifted from the ring to the courtroom, just as expertly documenting the disinterested defense by her court-appointed attorney and the heartlessness of a legal system that seems to have railroaded her. In fact, it's amazing the courtroom access Burstein and Morgen were given, especially with the tragicomic ineptitude that they capture on film. The segments involving Noel Santiago and George Walton may feature more actual boxing, but they don't have the same resonance as Manson's heartbreaking story line, nor the poignancy of the proud struggles of their trainer, Harry Keitt, who is too often taken for granted. The action between the ropes is not particularly exciting, but it's not the film's focus -- it rightly concentrates on the doubt, fear, and hope that dances in the boxers' eyes and hides behind their words. On the Ropes was nominated for a 2000 Oscar, and Walton and Manson married as a result of getting to know each other through the film.