Sunday, May 30, 2010

This Sporting Life (1963)

David Storey adapts his angry-young-man novel This Sporting Life, with Richard Harris as Frank Machin, the rugby Raging Bull whose only desire is to satisfy himself--but he doesn't know what he wants, so he simply digs in (always at his sport, like De Niro's Jake LaMotta) and crushes anything in his way--including his almost-love, played by Rachel Roberts (so good a few years earlier opposite Albert Finney in another angry-young-man drama, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)--and Roberts, like Cathy Moriarty in Raging Bull, is well-suited to keeping up with her growling, all-but-remorseless costar.

The film has grittiness to spare--the rugby scenes are muddy and brutal, as though the viewer were in the pileup--and the requisite sense of mute anguish (and not-so-mute: What would a Richard Harris movie be without sudden outbursts?) provides a long hard look at the heart of tragedy: Choice is a limited resource--every choice means one less--until only one remains, and that one is doom. Here, it's the rugby field, where Machin pushes like Sisyphus against his rock, getting nowhere.

I'm struck by how often I'm attracted by movies that remind me of King Kong, the "great ape" (Machin is called this at one point) that swipes at every obstacle, rages against what it hopes is the Other but that ends up being the Self. And as awful as such monsters are, they break my heart, like Jake LaMotta in his jail cell, insisting against all evidence to the contrary that he's not that bad.

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