July 3, 2016

Kirk Douglas, Champion*


In a decade full of ubiquity, it was at first frustrating to see that we'd close it out with a third boxing offering in the Best Actor category. Skepticism and weariness aside, Champion was a vastly intriguing film. From a trajectory standpoint, if Robert Montgomery was the decade's comedic segue into boxing, and if John Garfield was the first to dabble into the dark side of the sport, then it's fitting that we'd end with Kirk Douglas, who takes on a character that's wholly consumed by the darkness, and who bears no redeeming qualities when contrasted against his 1940's boxing brethren. The result is a stunning performance that is as unwavering as it is perceptive.

Douglas does what John Wayne curiously did not: he is, in every sense of the word in this film, a tough guy. That "tough guy" persona oozes out of him -- whenever Midge is displeased, you can feel it in the way Douglas looks at his surrounding characters, you feel it in the way he pushes the toughness into his tone of voice as he's delivering his lines. The beauty in his performance lies in Douglas' intensity. The level of intensity that he brings and the way in which he infuses that into how he carries himself throughout Champion is what makes him so fascinating. He is fully inhabiting this awful character, elevating what could easily have been another brooding and tepid male character into one with fire and excitement.

I was constantly locked in on him -- as his eyes bulge from out his sockets when he talks to Haley during training, as he passionately projects (and asserts) his dreams of being somebody to his brother. Even when he's not necessarily "intense" -- i.e., when he's locking his eyes in on the likes of Emma, Palmer, and Grace with a predatory desire -- you are absolutely charmed by him. He swaps out his intensity for a more soothing, calculated suaveness, and I found myself eerily seduced by that confident charisma. Culminating in a total breakdown by film's end, you remain hypnotized by Midge and you continue to care about him in spite of all of his misgivings. A wholly committed turn that stirs and keeps you gripped.

*Kirk Douglas in Champion has the distinguished honor of being my 100th reviewed Best Actor nominee. Woo hoo for making my way through approx. 1/4 of the Best Actors...let's hope the next hundy are even better!


  1. This is the Douglas film to see ... he's sensational. World-weary yet full of anger and intensity. It's a harsh performance but it needs to be. By not asking for the audiences' sympathy he still gets it ... because he's relentless.

  2. I haven't seen him yet but I've only heard good to great things about him. Glad you liked him.