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Day of the Fight: Venice Film Review

Day of the Fight has ambition and some good performances, but it lacks the originality to stand out from other sports movies.

Day of the Fight shows that no genre is more beholden to its tropes that the sports movie. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. People like a familiar story they can latch onto, but there are only so many times films can re-use the same plot devices. The best ones (Raging Bull is still cream of the crop) lay down the best way to do it, while clever exceptions only prove the rule (Between Moneyball and Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller is the king of sports subversion). Day of the Fight has some muscly heft to it, butit just doesn’t try to undermine the standard formula.

Day of the Fight centres on Mikey (Michael Pitt), a troubled boxer who has been recently released from prison after causing a fatal car crash. The same crash resulted in a potentially-fatal aneurysm; with little to lose, Brooklyn boy Mikey begins training for the big title fight that his management has managed to wangle in Madison Square Garden. In case this ‘one last fight’ story wasn’t predictable enough, there are plenty more familiar angles that writer-director Jack Huston can utilise. The brain injury storyline was explored effectively in Paddy Considine’s Journeyman. The film is shot in digital black and white by DoP Peter Simonite, which attempts to evoke Raging Bull, but only ends up drawing an unflattering comparison with its smooth, unblemished images. To underline the parallel, Joe Pesci stars as Mikey’s dementia-ridden father. Choices like this piece of casting can only lead to unflattering comparisons.

There is one piece of (relatively) original plotting in Day of the Fight. The fight is in 24 hours, so Mikey uses the time to visit the people most important to him. This includes his trainer (Ron Perlman), his ex-girlfriend (Nicolette Robinson) and his clergyman best friend. In the latter role, John Magaro caps a busy year (Past Lives, Showing Up) by stealing any scene he’s in. The rest of the cast do fine, but their characters are copies of similar roles we’ve seen before. The spunky ex who still cares is straight out of The Fighter, while Perlman’s role is just Mickey from the Rocky series, but taller. The use of montages for training scenes is also straight out of Stallone’s classic underdog story. At least there is no doubting Pitt’s physical commitment in the lead. With his swollen lips and affected Brooklyn drawl, he might wish for this role to be for him what Jake LaMotta was for De Niro. Alas, without an original bone in its bruised body, Day of the Fight is unlikely to win Pitt that kind of gravitas.

Day of the Fight
Day of the Fight (Jeong Park / 2023 Venice Film Festival)

As writer-director, and making his directorial debut to boot, Huston carries an unfair burden. It’s his name; some people will try to compare his first film to the unreasonable benchmark of the films of his legendary grandfather John. Few directors can be expected to scale those heights, but the young Huston has yet to find an original voice to allow him to make his mark. His script is just too cliché-ridden to make an impact (Count how many times a character starts a conversation with “Remember when…?”. It’s the oldest character builder in the book). Day of the Fight is well-intentioned, but it has nothing particularly new or interesting to say. 

Day of the Fight premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2023. Read our list of films to watch at the 2023 Venice Film Festival and discover the 2023 Venice Immersive Lineup!

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