"The Crucible of Fame"
Reminiscent of ERIN BROCKOVICH, AGAINST THE ROPES is a movie about a woman fighting to be taken seriously in the male-dominated world, using all of her “talents,” which in this case include a knowledge of the sport as well as suggestive physical appeal, to make her mark. The movie portrays adult themes but extols hard work and integrity, ending with a redemptive message.
The opening scene of AGAINST THE ROPES introduces viewers to a young Jackie Kallen hanging out with her father and uncle next to the boxing ring, learning the ropes of the sport. She is engaged in every aspect, receiving subtle encouragement from her father to have confidence in herself and fight for her place in life.
Flash forward to a grown-up, provocatively clad Jackie Kallen (played by Meg Ryan), who is still hanging around the ring in Cleveland, now as an assistant to manager Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub). Kallen, capable and passionate about boxing, finally tires of sexist put-downs and seizes a sarcastic offer for her to buy a boxer’s contract for $1, which propels her into the world of management.
As she tracks down her new boxer, she walks into an apartment littered with drugs and paraphernalia. In an ensuing brawl, she notices the raw talent of another resident, Luther Shaw, played by Omar Epps. After bailing Shaw out of jail, Kallen proceeds to convince Shaw to train for the world of professional boxing and to trust her untested managing skills. Luther is skeptical (noting that a woman in the boxing world is “diseased”) but slowly understands Kallen’s belief in his ability to make it big. It is a true partnership. His boxing skills and her persistence soon escalate them to primetime fights.
Kallen’s decision to pursue the management world, however, costs her the job with Sam LaRocca, who vindictively blocks her every attempt to find fights for her boxer. Finally acquiescing to the fact that Shaw will not box in Cleveland, Kallen goes to Buffalo, New York and tracks down a promoter she has known for years, even resorting to blackmail (threatening to tell his wife of his addiction to strip clubs) to get the fight. After Shaw wins, additional opportunities come steadily, and success brings a spotlight that Kallen steals from Shaw. In a humiliating display at a press conference, Kallen makes it clear that Shaw would be nowhere without her, which of course alienates Shaw. Oblivious to the stress between them, Kallen goes on to focus on promoting herself, using Shaw as the pawn to attract the spotlight.
After a time, Shaw lets Kallen know that she has totally lost touch, as well as her integrity. “You were honorable. If you said something, you meant it. Not a lot of people have that – and now, neither do you.” He unsuccessfully tries to break his contract with her, approaching LaRocca for help. Kallen continues her egotistical self-promotion, allowing HBO an exclusive documentary in spite of her obligation to local reporter Gavin Reece, who’s played by Timothy Daly. When the documentary airs, she is horrified to hear the concluding assessment that the world of boxing is a “heartless, egocentric boy’s club, and Jackie Kallen is its newest member.”
Finally, unable to escape the self-examination that has eluded her for as long as fame has enticed her, Kallen must rediscover what is really important and decide how to manage her life, personally and professionally. Kallen goes on to guide four boxers to world titles, lead the International Female Boxers Association, and become an author and public speaker.
AGAINST THE ROPES has notable production values, a great story of the climb to sports fame, as well as a compelling look at the protagonist’s moral transformation. The acting is excellent (well, except for Meg Ryan’s accent: was that Detroit, Cleveland, or North Carolina?), and the directing is noteworthy.
The movie depicts the morally challenged world of boxing and is for mature audiences only (due to language, some strip club scenes with scantily clad women, and boxing violence), but it portrays integrity and honesty in a genuine manner, which may leave moral audiences feeling stronger for having seen it.
(CC, BB, Pa, LLL, VV, S, N, A, DD, M) Redemptive worldview with moral elements portraying the dog-eat-dog, male-dominated world of sports management, with a realization of the need for integrity that surpasses that of fame and fortune; 35 mostly light obscenities (no “f” word) and seven profanities; strong violence, but most of it is inherent in the movie’s story about professional boxing, with one exception of an apartment brawl; no sex scenes, but portrayal of a married promoter caught in a strip club; scantily clad females; several portrayals of alcohol, with several bar scenes (social alcohol mixed with promotional business) and one scene of pre-fight banter includes the surreptitious passing around of a glass of orange juice, apparently laced with a laxative, causing one fighter to have a gross bout of distress in the ring; and, characters lie and manipulate for personal gain but are rebuked in the end.
GENRE: Biography/Sports Drama
AGAINST THE ROPES stars Meg Ryan as Jackie Kallen, a woman who risks everything to enter the world of boxing management. Witnessing a common brawl, she finds a fighter with raw talent in Luther Shaw (played by Omar Epps) and begins a meteoric rise to stardom. Along the way, however, she forgets the reason she entered the world of boxing in the first place, as the seduction of fame and fortune cause her to abandon her initial values. As she is brought face-to-face with broken relationships in the wake of her success, she must examine her true values and come to grips with who she was, is, and wants to become.
AGAINST THE ROPES is a compelling, believable story based on the real Jackie Kallen’s life. The movie portrays a clear, positive, moral transformation of the heart, and it offers hope that integrity and honesty will pay off in the end. While the movie portrays all sports business as worldly and sex- and drug-filled, it also shows that there is a path which doesn’t require conforming to that mold, a way that allows people to reach their full potential with honor and integrity.