WORDS / LANCE ST. LAURENT
Dir. by Ryan Moore and Leon Gast
Those seeking to learn the broad life story of Philippino boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao will likely be satisfied by Ryan Moore and Leon Gast’s new documentary Manny. As someone completely unfamiliar with the world of boxing and only vaguely familiar with Pacquiao’s name, I can say that I now much more about the man and how he overcame poverty to become an 8-time champion, worldwide superstar, and politician in his home country. On that most basic level, Manny delivers. Unfortunately, those seeking anything more are bound to be disappointed. Manny is little more than a fawning, by the book biography of the man, ably told through talking head interviews, archival footage, and behind-the-scenes work culled following Manny around. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and it aspires for nothing beyond a generic underdog narrative. They’ve even hired Liam Neeson to co-opt his gravitas in a film sorely lacking it.
It’s a shame, too. There are moments in which a far more fascinating portrait of Pacquiao pokes through. His humility, deep faith, and boundless ambition are all hammered into the audience, yet mentions of gambling problems and mistresses are tossed off without any further elaboration. There’s a clear sense that Pacquiao, for all of his successes, has begun to overextend himself, yet the filmmakers never explore this idea beyond a quick mention. In fact, they never seem to ask any difficult questions of the pugilist, mostly dealing in softball questions and bizarre celebrity interviews (including fake boxer Mark Wahlberg and Jimmy Kimmell). Tellingly, the film only comes alive when Pacquiao is in the ring. Moore and Gast edit Pacquiao’s fights with a feverish intensity, often speed-ramping for maximum effect during especially brutal punches. Pacquiao is a world-class athlete, and it is thrilling to watch him work in the ring. Outside of it, though, he’s almost completely opaque. It doesn’t help that we spend over two hours with this somewhat inscrutable subject, leading to long, pointless digressions about Pacquiao’s staff, fights that never happened, and Pacquiao’s laughable music and film careers. Again, some of this is interesting information, but that is ultimately all Manny is, an information dump, told artlessly and bluntly by filmmaker’s with no clear vision.