August 4 - Don King: Only In America
Note from TheMirl.com: This is the newest installment of a regular series by Joel Blumberg reviewing
sports movies from all eras.
There is very little doubt that Don King, was and at times still is, one of the
most controversial figures in the world of sports.
A one time Cleveland gangster, he killed 2 men and only served a short prison
sentence, as well as a small time music promoter (he managed Lloyd Price,
otherwise known as Stagger Lee), King made his mark as a boxing promoter.
He would go on to manage Muhammed Ali (many thought his mishandling
was a component that led to Ali’s Parkinson’s disease) and later Mike Tyson
(who most think he blatantly robbed).
This film, produced by HBO (arguably the number one boxing cable network),
is based on Jack Newfeld’s searing biography ”The Life and Crimes of Don King”.
Kario Salem, known more for his acting than his writing, did the screenplay and John Herzfeld
directed the film. It is by far the most ambitious and successful project for each.
The reason is simple - Ving Rhames, who plays Don King. Actually, it is not that simple. Ving
Rhames IS Don King.
His multi-layered portrait of King has more subtleties than a St. Andrews green. He takes one of the
most deplorable characters on the face of the earth and gives him a personality that is more than a
self promoting loud mouth.
Rhames' performance gives King a reason for his actions an understanding
as to why he becomes what he is and we at the same time detest and admire.
It is no easy feat to do this, because the natural instinct is to over play King as
the man we know. A man who is all bluster without conscience or substance.
Equally good is Vondie Curtis-Hall as Lloyd Price. He would later go on to play
Bandini Brown, in “Ali, An American Hero” (in this film played by Bernie Mac).
Producer David Blocker, rolled some dice in casting the film, using non-actors
in several key roles. Each one came up “7”. Teddy Atlas is brilliant as Rich
Giachetti, one of King’s first trainers. Atlas, who had a flair for naturalness and
honesty both in the ring and in front of the camera, parlayed this into a successful gig on ESPN.
Jarrod Bunch, a former New York Giants football player, scores just as big as George Foreman. Not
the lovable Foreman who we know now as a major hawker of automobile mufflers and portable
cooking grills, but a mean, sullen, withdrawn and insecure Foreman, taken to the cleaners mentally
and physically by Ali.
And singer Lou Rawls has the time and role of his life as Harold Logan.
Rhames won a Golden Globe for his performance as King. And then, in one of the confusing
gestures ever, he gave the award to Jack Lemmon who was nominated for “12 Angry Men” (and was
horrible in the role as Juror #8). He also won the image award as well. Hall won a Golden Satellite
award as Price.
Herzfeld , Salem and Blocker all won prizes, too (Herzfeld the DGA as best director, Blocker and
Salem both won Emmy’s). In addition, the film was nominated for some 20 other awards.
There have been many successful films made about boxing. “Champion”, “Raging Bull”, “The Set
Up”, “The Harder They Fall” and “Rocky” are just a few. The sport and it’s people lend themselves to
“Don King: Only In America” stands alongside of any one or all of them.