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Review: 'The Good Son' Lands Solid Body Blows Without Connecting Up Top

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire June 29, 2014 at 9:00AM

Jesse James Miller's documentary proves a powerful ode to the life of a burdened boxer, but it doesn't fully engage with the moral struggles within the sport itself.
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Ray Boom Boom Mancini in The Good Son

The personal story of Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini (technically Boom Boom Jr.) is a compelling one with enough tragedy to shatter the life of a weaker man. Without giving too much away in a documentary chronicling its subject's life from birth to present day, Mancini was forced to deal with premature death twice before he turned 22 years old. He lost his brother to a mysterious gunshot wound, and, more famously, he took the life of a fellow fighter during a brutal battle in the ring. The latter is portrayed as the defining moment of young Mancini's career -- he even speaks of how the result of well-fought match follows him from fight to fight for years afterwards -- but his mentality or the resulting populist opinion surrounding the sport isn't given enough of a spotlight.

What makes "The Good Son" relevant now is the decision of Duk Koo Kim's son to meet the man who delivered his father's fatal blow. During the film's quick intro, we see the adult child of the slain warrior (as he's often referred) on his way to meet Mancini before we cut away to learn more about the surviving fighter. Many a talking head pops up to share stories on Ray Mancini's personal life and early career. Friends, family, neighbors, fellow fighters (including Mickey Rourke, who discusses his friendship with Mancini and Sylvester Stallone), and even Ed O'Neill -- a fight fan -- all discuss how the Italian American boxer changed the game. 

But what could have made the film even more relevant, past the point of a touching, but rather unsurprising climactic meeting, would be if director Jesse James Miller would have had the gall (or time) to feature more discussion on what the fatal fight meant to boxing as a whole. A few comments are made during the film about how back when Mancini was coming up in the boxing world, matches were broadcast on the Big Four networks. CBS would fight with NBC over who got to show the fight of the week on Saturday afternoons or evenings. It was a top level sport, and now -- after Mancini's heartbreaking bout with Kim -- it's a tertiary interest, pushed back to pay per view airings and almost never seen in the prominent public eye.

Did Ray's fight have anything to do with it? How does the fighter feel about the state of boxing today? How long did he continue to fight, even, after the tragic battle? We know he continued on for a few more bouts, at least, but that's as much of the questions given answers in the too brief documentary. We can assume his match as well as a few other mentioned mistakes had a great affect on the sport, with one commenter stating it was Mancini's match that forced the WBC to lower the total rounds in a sanctioned fight. It's brief, but it's more than the state of boxing as a whole gets.

Near the film's end, Mancini gives a somewhat poetic explanation for his understanding of Kim as a man more than anyone else in his life because they shared the same drive. Miller makes sure to show how the fighters' styles paralleled one another, and Mancini's reference of an inner world only understood by those within it is hard to argue against. Yet we non-fighters outside of it could use a better explanation for why men continue to pummel each other in front of a cheering crowd after the result is proven similar to those found in ancient Greece's gladiatorial arenas. 

The singular focus is not a fatal flaw. Not at all, really. It's merely a question haunting "The Good Son" even when its concentration steers the viewer away from it. Mancini's life is one worthy of examination without extraneous moral quandaries, and it's told in a thoroughly entertaining manner for both the casual viewer and boxing fan alike. Yet one can't help but feel like an opportunity was missed when telling this particular story -- especially when we hope one like it never arises again.

Grade: B

"The Good Son: The Life of Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini" airs Sunday at 1pm ET on NBC.

This article is related to: The Good Son, The Good Son: The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini, Documentaries, Documentary, NBC, Television, Television Review, TV Reviews







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