John Huston is one of America’s iconic directors, but it wasn’t just during his prime years that he made his impact; he had an excellent career all the way to the end of his life. With three of his films left for me on the list (the last three to make it), I figured I’d explore the later works of this great filmmaker with a Huston-a-thon. First up is Fat City, a depressing and uncompromising look at a boxer past his prime, and a young up-and-comer who’s forced to make some serious decisions about his life. It’s not the sort of film you should watch on a particularly sullen day, if you ask me, but it has character, and then some.
As I said in the opener, this film is essentially two stories intertwined. Billy Tully is a somewhat washed up ex-boxer whose life went down the tubes as soon as his career did. His wife left him, and now he trolls around the town, diving between bars and working as many low-paying menial jobs as he can scrounge together. Then, one day, he goes to the local gym to get himself back into shape, and runs into Ernie Munger, a young kid working out himself, and our deuteragonist. After they spar a little, and Tully sees the kid’s potential, he gets the kid in with his former trainer, and after a run in with barfly Oma, decides to get himself back in the ring as well. The way Fat City comes across, it’s like a classically made film out of water in the modern era. You can still see the touches of classic Huston all over this one, but it is all filtered through a rugged, Peckinpah-ish lens that feels right at home in the 1970s-era of filmmaking. Truly, Huston is able to adapt to the times and the shifting culture of cinema. Besides the rough feel of the film, the main selling point is the performances. I’m frankly a little stymied as to why Stacy Keach did not get even a nomination for Best Actor; he is clearly the heart and soul of this film, and even though his character is rather surly and not too level-headed, he’s got a strange lovable quality to him. Jeff Bridges does a basically Jeff Bridges performance, but the other standout is Susan Tyrrell as Keach’s would-be romantic interest Oma. I cannot tell what parts of her performance are her personally or the character (not that I know much about her personally), which speaks volumes as to how fully realized her character is.
I don’t really know what I was expecting with this, but it was evidently somewhat lower than it should have been. This was surprisingly interesting, and it had a lot more to offer me than I thought it would. That being said, this is so much like Huston’s classic films that it feels somewhat dated, even for its time. The film doesn’t really accomplish enough; it is content simply to be, rather than to try a little extra. That’s all well and good, but why this made a list of must see films is a bit questionable as a result; it’s good, but that’s about it. If for whatever reason you have the chance to see this one, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed, but neither do I think you need to go out of your way to seek this one out.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10