Directed by Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker
The filmmaking duo's four previous documentaries revolved around the war in Iraq, so it's no surprise that they gravitated towards one of this country's most violent pastimes, a sport John McCain and others have (unfairly, says Gil's wife) called "human cockfighting". A veteran featured in 2009's Epperlein and Tucker's How to Fold a Flag was a cage fighter, which might've led them to the topic in the same way that an Iraqi journalist met while making Gunner Palace (2004) became the subject of The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2006). With economy and grace, Fightville leaves you feeling a human connection with three of its four subjects (Credeur is left unexamined), whose generally macho veneer covers things like vain insecurity, broken-home upbringings, and girlfriend troubles. The contrast between scenes showing Albert approaching the ring in a black bowler to Clockwork Orange Beethoven and confidently defeating his opponent, and then bussing tables at a mundane chain restaurant says everything about the financial difficulty and dream-reality disconnect of the minor league MMA life.
Gil is the most aware of the financial side of the business. He unabashedly calls it all "entertainment," and there's a tense moment when he half-jokingly implies to Dustin that he should throw his next match, so Gil can sell even more tickets to the rematch (the principled Dustin declines). Comparing himself to P.T. Barnum, Gil is shown sticking promo postcards in car windows, and enlisting his wife and daughter to help shill. Noting that most of the fighters he manages and works with end up destitute or lost (their goal is to be fed into a pro company like the UFC), he shrugs it off with "Hey, I'm not their father." Payment is never explicitly discussed, though one "opener" fighter is shown post-fight, face bloodied and nose possibly broken, clutching an $800 check.
The few sports movie-style buildups to big matches are dramatic and exciting, though the filmmakers aren't as good at making it clear exactly what is happening in the cage as they are at sketching the private bouts outside. It might just be the sport, but what's shown are unsatisfying tangles of limbs and the occasional pummeling of a head that's already down. More time inside the cage would've improved the film, but like Barry Blaustein's excellent pro wrestling doc Beyond the Mat, Fightville is after something else. As MMA's popularity continues to grow, and the feature films persist (Redbelt, Fighting, Warrior), documentaries like Fightville become valuable documents of this new, boxing-replacing automatic microcosm.
Opens April 20