‘Manny’ Review: An unfinished story
MANILA, Philippines – Manny begins in Las Vegas on December 9, 2012. It is Manny Pacquiao’s 4th fight against celebrated rival Juan Manuel Marquez. But any boxing fan worth his salt already knows the outcome.
In the 6th round with just a second to spare, Marquez lands a devastating right cross that sends Pacquiao face-first to the canvas. It's the punch that silenced a nation.
Marquez would ultimately be awarded the bout by knockout, and after 3 fights of contested decisions, there was now conclusive evidence that Pacquiao had been outmatched by his opponent.
But Manny isn’t a documentary about the victor. Instead, it is a film about a fighter.
Manny traces the life of Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao. And while there’s no mistaking the intrinsic allure of Pacquiao’s life, the inherent problem in this case is that his boxing career remains unfinished. Even as boxing history’s first and only 8-division world champion, the future of Pacquiao’s career remains unwritten.
Directed by Leon Gast and Ryan Moore, Manny traces Pacquiao’s life back to his beginnings in Kibawe, Bukidnon, where he was raised almost single-handedly by his mother Dionisia Dapidran-Pacquiao. But as the 4th of 6 siblings, Pacquiao’s life of poverty forced him to travel to Manila to pursue a career in boxing. At the time, his aspirations weren’t that of fame and fortune. As an under-aged competitor, Pacquiao simply wanted to earn enough for his family back home.
Pacquiao’s life is a genuine rags-to-riches story that continues to serves as an inspiration for many Filipinos. But without a definitive end to his storied career in boxing, Manny feels largely unfinished, and more importantly, unfocused. While it does provide occasional insight into Pacquiao’s life, Manny falls short by failing to provide a satisfying way of framing its story.
All intention, no insight
Manny is a documentary paved with good intentions. However, the reverence with which its subject is depicted ends up diluting the film of any genuine insight. Key sequences are narrated by actor Liam Neeson, but a good amount of the film is retold through scripted scenes read aloud by Pacquiao himself. The result leaves the documentary feeling forced, overly dramatic, and egregiously biased towards the prized fighter.
However, Manny isn’t without its own merits. The documentary does a remarkable job of showcasing Pacquiao’s journey as a young fighter, a part of his story that remains largely unknown by the general public. The film’s collection of Pacquiao’s older fights is particularly impressive, providing real scope to the countless years that Pacquiao had to train, fight and win in order to pull himself out of the amateur circuit.
From there, Manny follows Pacquiao’s career as an international boxing star through his fights with Lehlo Ledwaba, Antonio Barrera, Eric Morales, and eventually through his dramatic win against Oscar dela Hoya.
Interviews with sportscasters Ronnie Nathanielsz, Joaquin Henson and Chino Trinidad provide some local perspective to Pacquiao’s rise as a fighter. At the same time, interviews with international sports journalists Gary Poole and Larry Merchant provide a more global context to his story.
Unfortunately, without any driving thesis to the documentary, Manny meanders by touching on Pacquiao’s life as endorser, congressman and singer. While these are all novel tidbits to his life, they aren’t tied together by an arc that justifies their relevance.
The fight isn’t over
Manny is careful to sidestep the more controversial topics of Pacquiao’s life, particularly his alleged mistresses, gambling and drug habits. Though the documentary does its best to skim over the less angelic aspects of the boxer’s career, it doesn’t show enough of them to make Pacquiao more than the caricature that he appears to be by the end of the film.
Manny’s relentless lionization of Pacquiao, coupled with a lack of narrative cohesion, prevents Manny from ever reaching its potential as a documentary. Instead, Manny ends up so blatantly self-serving that it’s easy to mistake Pacquiao as the producer of his own documentary.
As far as documentary films go, directors Leon Gast and Ryan Moore fail to challenge the icon they’ve place under a microscope. But while this may sound like an unprovoked need to tarnish Pacquiao’s image, it’s this particular kind of documentary filmmaking that makes subjects more real, more grounded and more human.
Despite the documentary’s shortcomings, Pacquiao still has a long road ahead of him, both inside and outside of the ring. It wouldn’t be surprising to see another documentary on Pacquiao in the future, but it’s definitely one that should be done with the benefit of time and hindsight.
By the film’s end, even Pacquiao admits that he is still discovering God’s plan for him. And with Pacquiao’s boxing career still unfinished, his countless fans are discovering that plan along with him. Until then, every attempt at documenting the fighter from General Santos will simply be another chapter on the ongoing story that is his life. – Rappler.com
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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