is still pretty young these days, unless you’re an athlete scuffling in the
minor leagues. If you are still shagging flies in baseball’s farm teams, you
might earn points for “Crash” Davis persistence, but to keep plugging away in
regional MMA cage matches could be dangerous at that age. Despite his family’s
pleas, veteran fighter Joe Carman does indeed keep taking the punches throughout
Jeff Unay’s documentary, The Cage Fighter, which screens
during the 2017 San Francisco International Film Festival.
put it in On the Waterfront terms,
Carman never really sees himself as a contender, but going into the steel cage
is the only way to prove to himself he is a somebody. Partially, we can blame
his alcoholic, bipolar, psychologically abusive father, whom viewers will come
to pretty much despise during the course of the film. In contrast, Joe Carman
is a thoroughly likable fellow, even when he makes mistakes in his life.
though Cage Fighter weighs in at a
svelte eighty-three minutes, Unay makes us feel like we know exactly what makes
Carman tick. Clearly, the filmmaker built up a high degree of trust, because he
captured some painfully dramatic episodes. Frankly, Carman’s big confrontation
with his parents hurts to watch more than some of the beatings he endures—and those
will certainly make even regular MMA patrons wince. In many ways, Unay’s doc
serves as a corrective to Rocky and
scores of other sentimental sports movies. The simple truth is most fighters
lose their last match. The same might be true for Carman, even though he is not
ready to retire.
This is about as gritty as documentary
filmmaking gets. The fights are brutal and the milieu is blue collar all the
way. Yet, there is a nobility to Carman that always shines through. As a
result, the experience of watching him over the course of three emotionally
exhausting years is shockingly cathartic. Highly recommended for MMA fans and
cats over forty who also refuse to hang up their spurs, The Cage Fighter screens again this afternoon (4/10) and Thursday
(4/13), as part of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, MMA, SFFILM '17