Manny Pacquiao isn’t just a boxer. He’s a fighter.
There’s an ocean of difference between the two. One practices the sweet science in a roped-in square of canvas. The other fends off the slings and arrows in and out of the ring with gutsy determination.
Manny Pacquiao may be one of the finest boxers to don gloves, but he’s also a fighter in real life. And what a strange, bizarre, inspiring life it has been.
“Manny,” directed by Ryan Moore and Leon Gast (who directed “When We Were Kings,” the documentary about the Muhammad Ali – George Foreman ‘Rumble In The Jungle’) succeeds in painting a fair, nuanced and richly detailed picture of the “Pambansang Kamao” (National Fist.)
The producers obviously had a free pass inside the inner sanctum of Pacman’s entourage, with revealing shots of training, behind-the-scenes snippets of the fighter and his family, and even footage of him visiting the site of his old house in the countryside of Mindanao. This is all enriched by rare nuggets of Pacquiao boxing as an impossibly scrawny pugilist on Filipino TV, and even of him signing a contract with his disgraced former manager, Rod Nazario.
“Manny” pulls no punches, as a good Boxing film shouldn’t. The documentary is no hagiography, with Pacquiao’s failings (drinking, womanizing, gambling) getting their share of of air time. Even his wife Jinkee Pacquiao acknowledges them.
“We gotta stop the bullshit, the drinking, and the girls” admonishes trainer Freddie Roach to Pacquiao on a bus in one scene.
Those around Manny also get an unsparing treatment. The avuncular promoter Bob Arum is generally portrayed in a positive light but one interviewee says “promoters are not Mother Teresas, and that includes Bob Arum” or something to that effect. Pacquiao’s business manager, Michael Koncz, comes across as a wee bit smarmy and gruff, but in general well-meaning. Alex Ariza, the now-estranged conditioning coach, is also featured as an innovator with curious training methods. Roach has plenty of face time, and perhaps his most revealing moment is when he confesses that he and Pacquiao “clicked from he first round we worked together.”
Technically the film is brilliant. The footage of the fights is sumptuous in all its zillion-frames-a-second glory. The score is magnificent, at times propulsive, in other spots poignant, and always maintaining the drama already baked into every scene. The theme song is “Face Your Destiny,” a rocking shot of infectious adrenaline that underpins the film’s fight sequences.
The reality-show-like scenes of Manny and the characters around him are so cinematic one might think they came from a feature film and not a documentary.
The editing is fast and loose as the film hurtles through Pacquiao’s humble beginnings in grinding poverty to the rapid ascent of his career, including his bruising four-bout rivalry with Juan Manuel Marquez and epic battles with Oscar de la Hoya and Antonio Margarito. The viewer is also thrown headlong into the circus that is Pacman’s life outside the ring, and this is where the documentary is sometimes at it’s most entertaining.
There’s a precious scene when Manny records “Sometimes When We Touch” with the song’s composer, Dan Hill, that left the audience in the Resorts World Performing Arts Theater in stitches. The cringeworthy footage is almost worth the price of admission itself.
“The fact that this guy who can punch you forty times while he blinks and yet loves to sing these love ballads is… kinda scary” opines talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel.
Pacquiao’s relentlessly cheerful, quirky, and playful persona is a letmotif throughout the film. His effervescence a welcome counterpoint to the sullen and angsty personalities that have blighted the sport for far too long.
But Pacquiao’s recent struggles in and out of the ring aren’t ignored, and neither is his frustrating inability to get a fight with Floyd Mayweather.
Does the film have any weaknesses? Just a few. Moore and Gast hint at Pacquiao’s difficulties as a congressman, and even go so far as to interview Winnie Monsod, the economist and technocrat who is critical of Pacquiao running a boxing career parallel to that of a civil servant. But in reality Pacman has been a disaster as a legislator, compiling one of the worst attendance records in the lower house. And his opposition to badly-needed reproductive health legislation rankles progressives. The film-makers could’ve been braver had they highlighted this truth a bit more.
True, there’s a scene where he fumbles a response to the RH bill but there’s also a moment where, as a congressman, he opens a provincial hospital in Sarangani province. Last I checked, congressmen weren’t paid to cut ribbons.
The film notes that Pacquiao won a second term in congress in 2013. It seems to be touted as yet another accomplishment when in reality it’s a symptom of the Philippines’ dysfunctional democracy and uneducated electorate more than anything else. In that sense the movie fails to be completely honest with its viewers, especially those outside the Philippines.
Liam Neeson is headlined as the narrator but in reality his voice can only be heard in maybe 20% of the movie. Pacman does a lot of the narration himself, and is quite effective at it.
Near the end of the film “Manny” also explores the boxer’s deep religious faith, including a few minutes of him preaching at the Araneta Coliseum. It may come off a tad bit schmaltzy to some.
But “Manny” nonetheless very much satisfies. The ending of the documentary may be ironic, but it’s a fitting encapsulation of his guiding ethos.
One of the pundits interviewed in the film (I believe it’s Bert Sugar,) sums up Pacquiao’s career best in comparison to Muhammad Ali, intoning “both of them were superstars who knew how to handle it and also represented something.”
Manny Pacquiao represents his nation’s hopes and aspirations with pride. He’s a Filipino boxer, and a Filipino fighter. This film offers a unique and compelling insight into his journey, and it shouldn’t be missed.
“Manny” opens in theaters on Wednesday, March 12. Special thanks to Franco Mabanta for his kind invitation to the premiere screening. Check out the official website at mannypacquiaomovie.com.