Manny: SXSW Review

This sports doc is for fairly serious boxing fans only.

An admiring film chronicles the remarkable success of boxer Manny Pacquiao.

AUSTIN -- When We Were Kings director Leon Gast returns to boxing and its impact on cultural identity in Manny, a portrait of boxing star Manny Pacquiao, co-directed by Ryan Moore. An easy sell to sports networks or themed fests, the doc lacks the kind of broad relevance and appeal Kings had, and is generally uncritical of its hero, though a couple of scenes -- notably those of a tone-deaf star recording cheesy love ballads in a Columbia Records studio -- will amuse even viewers with no interest in ringside drama.

"Boxing is the cruelest sport," intones a very serious Liam Neeson, "because it takes so much from a man." But while the film milks every ounce of gravitas it can get from Neeson's narration, mostly this is the story of what boxing gives -- wealth, adulation, power -- instead of what it takes. Certainly, though, Pacquiao has worked extraordinarily hard and risked his health to achieve all this. Born into poverty and warfare in a small Filipino village, he didn't see a car or a television until he was 5, and he was supporting his family by the age of 12. Moore and Gast visit his hometown, where Pacquiao's first trainer -- his uncle -- shows us the tattered, homemade-looking gloves he used when he started learning to fight.

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Soon, he was fleeing to Manila, living in the gym where he trained (he slept in the ring) and embarking on a string of fights in which even his early lack of finesse couldn't keep him from winning. A good array of vintage footage augments interviews with those who watched him then and in his first American bouts, and the filmmakers make a point of establishing the personalities around the fighter, from trainer Freddie Roach to the assorted promoters, conditioning coaches and managers (some of whom took advantage of the rising star) who helped as he punched his way to eight world championships. (Stars including Mark Wahlberg and Jeremy Piven pop in from time to time to share their admiration.)

Attentive viewers may read between the lines and guess at the temptations a boxing hero faces when he is so popular that, in his home country, warring parties declare cease-fires whenever one of his bouts is televised. But talk of his gambling and marital infidelities is downplayed until very late, when a disappointment in the ring inspires the fighter to clean up his act. The only personal issue that gets much screen time is Pacquiao's ignorance of his own limits -- as when he believes he can run for and serve in the Philippine House of Representatives while maintaining his boxing career. In the end, the film is better at chronology and context than in producing an understanding of this deeply ambitious man's personality.

Production Companies: Wonderspun, Revilin Studios

Directors: Ryan Moore, Leon Gast

Producers: Ryan Moore, Ken Mayer

Executive producers: Jay Bajaj, Franklin Gacal

Directors of photography: Jez Thierry, Manny Pelayo

Music: Lorne Balfe

Editors: Lenny Mesina, Doug Abel

Sales: Peter Trinh

No rating, 112 minutes

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