Northwest Connections | 2017 | 83 minutes
Stranger Says: Directed, produced, and shot by Seattle local Jeff Unay, The Cage Fighter contains real-life echoes of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. The documentary follows 40-year-old mixed martial arts fighter Joe Carman as he struggles to stay in the ring against the wishes of his family. Beautifully photographed, the film’s emotional wallop doesn’t hit you over the head. Vérité style scenes toggle between tender family moments, the violent realm of MMA, and Carman’s dysfunctional relationship with his father (and his whip-cracking coach), and they slowly reveal what drives Carman into the ring and the decision he makes about his future. (AMBER CORTES)
SIFF Says:“The only time I feel like I have confidence in myself is when I’m fighting.” Joe Carman, nearly 40, face bruised from two rounds in the octagon, has just gone back on a promise to quit mixed-martial-arts cage fighting once and for all. His family is rightfully concerned that this man, who works for the Washington State Ferry system by day, could end up in a wheelchair within the next five years. But something drives him, an addiction to combat that compels him to plead with his beloved wife and children for just one more bout. Then two. Then three. He needs redemption. He needs closure on this part of his life. They relent, but hesitantly. As Joe goes back into an arduous, spirit-crushing training regimen―“This is what separates us from normal people,” his coach tells him―he must also contend with potential post-concussion syndrome, his wife’s mysterious illness, and a custody battle with his ex-wife. At least in the cage, an old fighter can go down swinging, trading his inner pain for physical blows. The Cage Fighter is a riveting local observational documentary culled from three years of unprecedented access to the Carman family, directed and framed by Jeff Unay with a strong visual eye and an even stronger emotional core.
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