"Price of Glory" is an old-fashioned sports movie about a Mexican-American family's efforts to win the middleweight boxing title for one (or more) of its three sons. This is also a middleweight movie that shows flashes of being a contender. It is knowledgeable about its subject, and occasionally exciting and moving; but ultimately lacks the punch to break out of its genre's conventions.
Jimmy Smits stars as Arturo Ortega. He could'a been a contender, but a crooked trainer's betrayal ruined his career. Now, he trains his three talented sons in the sweet science.
But is Arturo doing it for his sons, or because he wants to live vicariously through them? Actually, this movie-- unlike some melodramas-- is smart enough to say that it's a little of both.
The sons are capably played by John Seda of TV's late, lamented"Homicide: Life on the Street" as Sonny, the oldest and wisest; Clifton Collins Jr. as Jimmy, the underappreciated middle son; and newcomer Ernesto Hernandez as Johnny, the flashy baby of the family-- and his father's favorite.
As the Fighting Ortegas make their way up the ladder, Arturo is approached by a big time promoter, Nick Everson; (Ron "Beauty and the Beast" Perlman) who wants to sign the brothers, but is really only interested in Johnny. Arturo is suspicious of Everson, and tells him to take a hike.
But when Arturo uses Everson to give the less talented Jimmy a title shot-- and set him up financially-- it causes some rifts in the family. Jimmy is stung by his father's lack of confidence, and Sonny, the better fighter, feels slighted.
In fact, much to the concern of his long suffering wife Rita, (Maria Del Mar Arturo seems determined to alienate everyone. He needlessly (in the movie's worst and most ham-handed scene) offends the family of Sonny's fiance. He resents Sonny for having a life outside boxing, and he manipulates his deal with Everson in shameless fashion. Then an unexpected tragedy strikes and threatens to tear the family apart.
"Price of Glory" was written by boxing writer Phil Berger, who brings an authenticity to both the business and sport angles. Thankfully absent is the usual hand wringing about the dangerous nature of the sport, and the sometimes shady dealings around it.
But Berger is not nearly as good with the rest of life. Some of the father-son conflict is sharp, but too much seems to be lifted from birth order cliches. The women in the movie are really there to be sympathetic and supportive-- and decorative-- but little else. Some of Arturo's mistakes are contrived just to give the movie some conflict.
First time director Carlos Avila is also a little flat footed outside the ring. He gets solid performances from the actors, and the movie is competently shot throughout-- but the boxing scenes are superb. For once, the fights look realistic, with neither the Rocky-style choreography and hundreds of blows that would fell a mule; nor the over bloody brawling of many of the R-rated imitators. Avila has a nice sense of the ebbs and flows of a boxing match, but this overly earnest movie could use some light moments, or even a sense of the competitive joy of the sport.
The most distinguishing feature of "Price of Glory" is the matter of fact way in which a middle-class Hispanic family is depicted. This is a far more effective statement than the usual racial politics that moviemakers too often fall into, and another commendable facet to this movie-- of course, it will be even better when we don't notice things like this because they are the norm.
"Price of Glory" is on the level of a top knotch TV movie. For boxing fans, it's a must see; and a solid video rental down the road (probably not to far) for most everyone else.