Time Out New York Project: Issue #729, September 17-23, 2009
Dir. John Huston. 1972. PG. 100mins. Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell.
From the start, director John Huston grounds his superb tale of two boxers in the grit of Every City, USA. It feels like an eternity before a line of dialogue is spoken. Until that point, we get slow-dissolve glimpses of the plebeian world inhabited by Tully (Keach) and Ernie (Bridges), talented pugilists on opposite trajectories.
Tully is nearing 30 and losing his touch, so when he comes across the rawly gifted 18-year-old Ernie during a posthangover workout, his involuntary inclination is to push the boy in the right direction. From there, the duo branch off into separate story threads that only occasionally converge. Tully works odd jobs and boozes around town with barfly Oma (floozy-rific Oscar nominee Tyrrell), while Ernie does an on-again, off-again study of his craft with Tully’s former manager Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto).
There’s no narrative build, per se. It’s just a succession of fleeting, semirealized hopes tamped down by disappointment after disappointment. Yet Huston and his performers give the material an elating, transcendental verve, especially during the sequences in which words fail the characters and interminable silences take over. That’s the sum total of Tully and Ernie’s final interaction, a pregnant pause in a run-down diner that seems as if it could extend for eons.—Keith Uhlich