The title must be a big clue to this made-for-HBO flick, for the conclusion comes at such a seemingly unlikely moment that there must be some puzzle at hand for us to solve, or perhaps merely to understand. "Undefeated" is an impressive statistic, especially for a boxer - in this case, the fictional Lex Vargas. But like so many statistics, the numbers have a tendency to mislead us.
John Leguizamo helms his first picture as director here, as well as starring and contributing to the script. The quality of the production bespeaks his experience around the camera, plus HBO's remarkable influence and trust in the man.
The story is of that boxer, who rises in rank to be the champion of his weight class. He loses touch with the principles he used to stand on, and in the end must save himself from a cold, cynical fate this road has led him to.
In many ways, we've seen this kind of story before. Many of the plot points are foreseeable, which certainly isn't ideal, but not a sinker either. The film bets itself on executing the story well rather than surprising us with the details. In this regard, the film is a success, but is the original formulation of the idea a miscalculation? It's not really that bad, but there are definite third act issues here.
My main problem is with the script. It's suitably subtle for many of the scenes, only to threaten hitting us on the head elsewhere. The sudden ending is entirely too dripping with meaning. Yes, it brings together certain themes quite well, such as the true meaning of Vargas' life. Without giving anything away, I'd say the concept had merit, may have even been executed well enough, but failed by being the entirely wrong sudden ending. The meanings we can extract from it are vastly outweighed by the questions that are left hanging in the air.
There's one brilliant shot of Leguizamo in bed with (girlfriend? the story makes any label quite ambiguous here) ZZZ, creating tension by rotating from a straight-down to a sidewise shot, keeping the actors in an unusual composition. There's no arguing this wasn't the perfect shot for the scene.
Undefeated is a compelling film in each moment, but sadly fails us in the very end. I think we should be eagerly awaiting Leguizamo's next foray behind the camera, though. The potential is certainly here.
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