It’s sad when someone we know dies. Sometimes it’s sad when someone we don’t know personally, like an actor whose work we enjoy, dies. What may make us sadder is when the last movie that actor made was a real turkey. The last movie John Candy made was “Wagons East.” The last movie that Raul Julia starred in was “Street Fighter.” If you could do an after-life interview with either of those two, I’m sure they would have rather gone out after having done a much better quality movie. If you were to have that same after-life interview with Michael Clarke Duncan, he’d probably be very proud that his last movie was “The Challenger.”
The movie had its world premiere right here in South Florida at the 20th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival, where it went on to win the Audience Award for Best Feature Film. It’s about a young man from the Bronx, Jaden (Kent Moran) who works as an auto mechanic to support himself and his mother. HE starts moonlighting as a boxer with the help of a legendary trainer. A network takes notice and forms a reality show around him as he works his way up to a championship fight.
Kent Moran not only stars in “The Challenger”, he is also the writer and director. He found success in the sunshine state before with “Listen to Your Heart”, which won the Audience Award at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in 2010. This is a man who knows how to craft a story filled with fully developed characters that audiences care about. It’s not a surprise he attracted the attention of an Oscar nominated actor like Michael Clarke Duncan to work on his independent film.
Currently “The Challenger” is making its way around the film festival circuit; however, if it were to get picked up for national distribution, even on a limited scale, Duncan could find himself nominated for a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. His sole nomination came from his role in “The Green Mile.” It was a rare movie for the actor in that it allowed him to emote on multiple levels. This is something that evaded him for most of his career. This last movie once again allows him to really show off his skills as an actor.
“The Challenger” would still be classified as a boxing movie, so it is natural to ask how it ranks as such. The answer is that is ranks pretty darn high. There are multiple fights shown n the movie and they are all pretty exciting. All of these accumulate to the final fight in the film. Moran makes some very interesting choices regarding how he captures the climax. These help separate this film from other boxing movies. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will give one example: the music he chooses to use. Usually in a boxing movie when we get close to the end the fight the music that accompanies it is overly dramatic and loud. That has always worked for those movies. In this movie, the music is slow, basically a piano score. You might think it would react against the backdrop of what is happening on the screen, but it really enhances it in a way not seen in a boxing movie before.
The Dances with Films Festival has chosen “The Challenger” to be its opening film tomorrow night, May 28. If a local film festival near you is showing this movie I highly recommend it. Movie actors usually do not get to choose which project will be their last one. If Michael Clarke Duncan the opportunity to choose which film would be his last, this one would probably be it.