Sometimes you see a film that feels like it's fiction, and then you discover at the end, it's true. I remember sitting at the end seeing the end credits roll through and seeing the name "Joe Carman" and then the names of all of his four daughters all with the last name "Carman", and part of me couldn't accept that this film was real. Joe is an amateur UFC fighter, who just turned 40 in the film. This film will appeal to anyone who's interested in mixed-martial arts and wants to see what goes on behind the flashy fights we see on Pay-per-view, what we don't see—the intense training before sunrise, the belittlement from coaches, the ups and downs of family life, and interesting hobbies of the fighters (Joe maintains a couple goats). But the real story is the family story. Director Jeff Unay puts us into intimate spaces like the living room, the kitchen, and the doctor's office. He makes it feel shockingly close. He made us feel like we were in the cage during the fight. And in the audience of the fight. And in the bathroom after vomiting because we had just been punched in the gut. He shot this so well, it was ridiculous. Joe's family wants him to quit fighting; they have trouble understanding why he continues to do it. Joe is conflicted himself – he deeply loves his family, but he can't stop putting himself and his health at risk, because of the feeling of independence he gets being in the ring, one on one, with a competitor. It's not just Joe. Every character in this film is two people at once – Joe's wife is angry and resolute, and then she's troubled and scared. Some scenes with the daughters and you think it's the happiest family in the world. Other moments you think it's the most difficult family in the world. Opponents in the ring are portrayed as brutish mutes, and later in the film, we discover that they're kind and empathetic. I couldn't believe that the people in this film weren't actors. I studied acting, and studied boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. These were ordinary people but they had extraordinary presence on screen, whether it was Joe's mom pleading with her aging husband to stop yelling at her 40-year old son, or Joe's teenage daughters fighting among themselves whether to confront dad or accept dad. In one scene, we see three of Joe's teenage daughters in a parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, arguing about whether or not to bring up at home the pain their dad's fighting was causing them. It was like Unay knew exactly where to be, exactly when to be there, and exactly when to focus the camera and when to zoom in. Joe's captured rolling around in the grass with his daughters in a park, seconds later, he's beating the hell out of a punching bag on the ground at his training gym. You decide the type of man he is. I saw this at the world premiere, and during the Q&A, one woman after a couple of questions had been asked, shouted out of turn at Joe and his family on stage, "Stop fighting!" Immediately afterwards, a man from a different part of the crowd, and there were some MMA guys in attendance, shouted, "Keep fighting". It was an awkward moment, not because they were both wrong, but because they were both right. For anyone looking to understand why Joe does what he does, I recommend reading, "Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging" by Sebastian Junger, for answering what it means to be a warrior in the modern world. There's also beautiful footage of the Pacific Northwest here so anyone from this region will be sure to enjoy that too. Overall, I strongly recommend seeing this film. There's some aspects of it everyone will relate to, being passionate about something, having difficulties with one's families, and ultimately leaving us raw. 10 out of 10.
The Cage Fighter
The Cage Fighter
A blue-collar family man breaks the promise he'd made to never fight again. Now forty years old, with a wife and four children who need him, Joe Carman risks everything to go back into the fighting cage and come to terms with his past.
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August 12, 2019