Greetings again from the darkness. Growing up in extreme poverty in the Civil War-torn Philippines, sleeping in a hut made from coconut tree leaves, and working with fishermen as a young boy, Manny Pacquiao spent his childhood not dreaming of becoming a world champion boxer and celebrity, but rather wondering if there would be food to eat on any given day. This background is probably what inspired co-directors Ryan Moore and Leon Gast (Oscar winner for When We Were Kings) to focus less on Manny’s personal flaws and more on his extraordinary road to success.
Opening with Michael Buffer’s familiar “Let’s get ready to rumble“, the film does exactly that. Obviously much of the film highlights Manny’s boxing career, beginning as an extremely young fighter with a slight build and carrying through to his record-setting titles in 8 weight classifications, but it also does an admirable job of helping us get to know the man behind the fame.
As Pac-Man finds more success in the ring, we witness the exponential growth of the circus environment – his training camp, the media onslaught, the endorsements, the lousy movies, his re-discovery of religion, and his political aspirations. We meet his cutting edge fitness trainer Alex Ariza and his long-time boxing trainer and friend (and former boxer) Freddie Roach. Freddie’s story is probably worthy of its own documentary, as he trained under his mentor, the legendary Eddie Futch, and blames his Parkinson’s Disease on staying in the game a few fights too long.
The film acknowledges, but only in a cursory manner, the dark side of boxing. Manny’s first two managers are blamed for some of his early financial woes, as is his business adviser Michael Koncz … and promoter Bob Arum is certainly a guy who deserves a bit more scrutiny. Questionable decisions in key matches are mentioned, but no further investigative reporting is offered … handled just as the sport itself does. This hole would be less obvious had not so much of the film focused on Manny’s boxing career.
We get a taste of Manny’s charm and appeal. Actor and fight fan Mark Wahlberg makes a great observation in his interview, as he points out that Manny’s entry into the ring for a fight is filled with smiles and waves … as if he had not a care in the world. But then once he steps into the ring, he can “flip the switch” and find the focus to fight his fight. We also see Manny on talk shows, and in a truly priceless sequence, we go into the recording studio as Manny sings “Sometimes When We Touch” … while being mentored by the song’s original singer/songwriter Dan Hill.
The film does nice work in letting us see Manny make the move into politics – he’s now a twice elected representative in his hometown Sarangami province. There is also footage of him in his ministry as he confesses to a sinful past left behind in favor of his family and clean living. Some of the interviews with Jinkee (his wife) are the most emotional moments in the film. Along the way, we are privy to some of Manny’s philosophical thoughts: “Loss is a reminder of what’s important in life“, and when times are tough, “You get back up. You fight again“. Manny’s talent has etched his place in boxing history, but his approach to life is what contrasts him from many other great fighters like Floyd Mayweather (whose brief appearances flash enough ego to turn anyone’s stomach). That hut in the Philippines may be long gone, but the film shows us that Manny is here to stay.