Possibly the heaviest film playing at this year’s festival (which, given the subject matter overall, really says a lot) comes in the form of this documentary from Executive Producer 50 Cent about boxing legend Johnny Tapia.
Raised on the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico and dubbed “the babyfaced assassin” in the ring, the former IBF and WBO Junior Bantamweight and Flyweight champion amassed a legendary undefeated string. It was hard for him to get there, though. Always struggling with the murder of his mother (which went unsolved for decades) and cocaine addiction, Tapia spiralled out of control before his career even had a chance to get started, consumed by rage and aggression. He found his salvation in the ring, and for a long time he remained sober and happy. Then, when the past decided to rear its ugly head and a pair of fights ended in questionable decisions against him, things started falling apart again.
Tapia’s life can’t be categorized as anything other than an immense tragedy. For about 75% of his interview time with filmmaker Eddie Alcazar (whose shooting style is nicely reminiscent of the fictional boxing drama Bullhead), Tapia openly weeps about the loss in his life, and he takes his setbacks to heart because he always feels like he let down the people he loved. It’s bracing and heartbreaking, but not without its upsides. The middle portion and very end of the film are quite positive and inspiring.
Not many people can come back from a three and a half year layoff in one of the most competitive bloodsports in the world to reach the top of the mountain. Even fewer people can come back from literally dying of a drug overdose three separate times. It’s amazing that Tapia survived to tell his story to anyone before his tragic death in 2012 at the age of 45, and even greater that he had the strength and capability for self-analysis to tell it as it is. (Andrew Parker)
Saturday, November 15th, 4:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox