Friday, May 4, 2018

Fight Church Month: A Fighting Man

A Fighting Man (2014)
It isn’t fair to actors, but sometimes it is hard to get past a role. In the F/X show Sons of Anarchy, Kim Coates played an outlaw biker for whom no act of violence or perversity seemed outside the range of consideration. (Another thing about Coates, which says more about me than him: it took me a while to connect the name with the actor, thinking Kim was one of the women in the cast.) In A Fighting Man, Coates plays a priest who’s a long way from the biker “Tig.” It took me time to adjust and realize he wouldn’t be pulling a shiv on anyone.

Thankfully, there was plenty of time to adjust; Father Brennan (Coates) plays a major role in this boxing film. The film tells the story of Sailor O’Connor (Dominic Purcell), a boxer with a losing record who had the distinction of never going down to the mat throughout his career. As things happen in these films, the old fighter is given one last shot to go into the ring for a big payday. Promoters believe fans will pay for the opportunity to see Sailor finally go down.

Sailor decides to take the fight because his mother, Rose, is dying; he wants to on one last visit home to Ireland. What Sailor would most like to give his mother is faith, but that isn’t as easy a gift to give.

Sailor tells his mother, “Father Brennan wants to talk to you.”

“About what? And don’t say God.”

“He wants to talk to you about what’s coming. So that you’re in a state of grace.”

Rose says, “How can you still believe after what He did to you...If there is a God, He’s a monster. A doer of evil and wicked things. I won’t seek grace from a monster.”

Sailor and Rose have lived difficult lives. Sailor’s father was an abusive alcoholic who abandoned them both when Sailor was a young boy. Sailor married, but his wife and children were killed by a drunk driver’s carelessness. These events drove Rose away from the Catholic Church and bound Sailor to it.

Apparently, Father Brennan helped Sailor through the tough times (at least in his adult life). But he was also there for Dr. Diane Schuler (Famke Janssen), the woman who killed Sailor’s wife and daughter. The Father tells Sailor he is going to Diane’s parole hearing, saying “Her loss is as great as yours. I’m sorry, loss can’t be measured. Do you want her to continue to suffer?”

Sailor responds, “Yeah, I think I do.”

Brennan asks to see Rose, but Sailor says, “It won’t do any good, she’s at war with God.”

Rose says she’ll only see the priest if he, um, puts a religious icon in an uncomfortable place (we’re doing our best to run a family-friendly blog here). Brennan does go to see Rose and jokes about the discomfort he feels having an artifact in his nether regions. Rose harangues the priest about the sexual scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. He puts those things aside to discuss their mutual concern for Sailor and the danger he is putting himself in by going in the ring for one last match.

They're not the only ones opposed to Sailor fighting. Sailor goes to Brother Albright, an old boxer, for assistance. He agrees, but only to have more opportunities to persuade Sailor to back out. Rose asks Brother Albright if he’s a religious man, and when he shrugs off the question, she asks “Why do they call you brother?”

He responds that down at the harbor he helps those in need. Rose says, “That’s much better than religion.”

After Diane is released from prison, she goes to see Father Brennan at his church. She tells him, “The pain I suffer is nothing compared to the pain I caused. How much wrong can a person do before they use up all the good that’s inside them?”

Father Brennan responds with a bit of questionable theology, “Diane, God can be far worse than us. He can cause more pain and suffering, provide us with more temptation than anything in the universe and yet, we sin and He doesn’t. I’m not sure how that works.” Diane tells him she has nothing, she wonders how she can go on. The priest tells her she needs to learn to surrender.

You may have noticed that my synopsis of the film isn’t strictly linear -- nor is the structure of the film. The events leading to the big fight are interspersed with the fight itself. We also see a bit about Sailor’s opponent, King Solomon (Izaak Smith), a very young man trying to find a straight path to be a good father to his still-to-be-born child.
Before the fight, Father Brennan comes into the dressing room to pray for Sailor. Sailor reminds him to pray for King Solomon as well. Solomon’s ring man and manager (Lou Gossett Jr.) urges him to show no mercy, while Sailor’s ring men (Michael Ironside and James Caan) want him to give up. Sailor refuses. Though the fight is a brutal affair, it isn’t, perhaps, as tough for Sailor as his internal battle to forgive Diane. She comes to him shortly before the fight.

“I will spend the rest of my life trying to make up for what I did,” she tells him. “I see the hate in your eyes, I deserve it….I’m not asking for forgiveness. Contrary to the teachings of your faith, there are things that are unforgivable. But I will not have you consumed by hate. So you pray to your God for your loss, for your salvation, and for theirs. You ask Him to find a way out of your hate. But don’t you ever pray for me. I don’t deserve it.”

Eventually, Sailor comes to a kind of peace, urging Diane to forgive herself. “It's the best we can do.”

Perhaps Father Brennan’s ministry had an impact, so in spite of his questionable way of describing life’s difficulties, we’re giving Father Brennan our highest rating of Four Steeples.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen Kim Coates in other things and it is very difficult to see anyone other than Tig.