LA Film Fest 2013: TAPIA Review

8.5

Film Pulse Score

Tapia
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Release Date: TBD
Director:
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 8.5/10

We are all familiar with the Rocky formula.  The underdog comes back from unbeatable odds to win it all; the girl, the title and the hearts of those cheering him on.   Sylvester Stallone put it to great affect in his six-film Rocky franchise.   Now take that formula and turn it into a gritty, hard-nosed drama where the odds that needed to be overcome were drugs and inner demons and the titles weren’t a foregone conclusion.  Next, make it a true story.   That is a summary unworthy of the film itself which is a powerful, raw, engaging and poignant story about a true underdog, boxing phenom Johnny Tapia.  Eddie Alcazar’s documentary Tapia is a fitting testament to the life of Tapia who died tragically mere months after principal photography was completed.

The amount of hardship and tragedy that Tapia was forced to live through is almost too unbearalbe to be true.  No one can be expected to live through the trauma and turmoil that he endured his entire life.   His father was reportedly murdered while his mother was pregnant with him.  His mother was kidnapped and murdered when he was only eight years old.  The killer was never caught.  Tapia started boxing at a young age and in time became a fighter to be reckoned with.  Known as “The Baby-Faced Assassin” he won five titles across three weight classes.  His drug use forced him to leave the ring but he was able to stage a remarkable comeback.

Alcazar doesn’t paint Tapia as a saint.  He knows he is flawed.  We see a man who is truly trying to better himself and like a true human being he does stumble.   He certainly can come off as an intimidating man but is still very approachable.  He is also a very humble man as one person recounts a fan telling him that he was their hero but Tapia asked why him since he hasn’t really done anything.   His humbleness also leads to generosity as he is not above helping out the less fortunate or breaking up a mugging after a title bout.   But for every good thing in his life comes further tragedy as we learn more about his drug use, suicide attempts and more deaths in his family.  So much tragedy it couldn’t possibly be true but sadly it is.

Scattered throughout the film Tapia discusses his life, his career and his failings.  In some instances he watches footage of his fights and provides commentary about what he was thinking and why that bout was so important.   In the ring Tapia proves to be a very entertaining and stellar fighter.  Playing to the crowd and delivering some fast as lightning punches that have ended many a match.   The fights are quite dramatic and make you want to watch the entire match.  There are some powerful moments where Tapia recounts his regrets and his trouble coping with the murder of his mother.  He adores her so much that he wouldn’t hesitate to put you down if you spoke ill of her in any way.  You see the pain on his face as he relays the heartache of not having his mother around.  He’s had a hard life and it’s not difficult to find yourself rooting for him.

With Tapia’s untimely passing Alcazar’s documentary went from being a study of how one man was able to overcome great adversity to a testament to his indomitable spirit and the legacy he leaves behind.   It’s a solid documentary about the sport and the people who fight in it.  It not only looks at the sport but the trappings that could easily bring a great fighter down.  Tapia will certainly garner new fans of the late boxer.  He was truly one of a kind.