Monday, November 19, 2007

The Smashing Machine

John Hyams | 2002 | 93 min | US

Mixed martial arts is an extremely taxing sport, both mentally and physically. If you have any doubt, please take a look at this portrait of fighter Mark Kerr.

Kerr was once a successful, popular heavyweight in the premier UFC and Pride Fighting organizations, but is in the process of trying to climb back to the top when this documentary catches up with him. Kerr is very forthright about the highs and lows of his involvement in mixed martial arts. He openly discusses his addiction to the opiates which allow him to dull the hits and fears of each fight and ease the painful recoveries. His troubled personal relationship with girlfriend Dawn Staples also falls under scrutiny. As the relationship comes into focus it becomes clear that it has as ill an effect on his professional performance as his drug addiction, though the couple are the only ones not to realize it.

The Smashing Machine also spends a lot of time with Mark Coleman, a friend and colleague of Kerr's who's name will be familiar to long time fans of the UFC. 'The Hammer' Coleman was once a heavyweight champion, but is well past his glory days by the point of this shoot. He plainly admits that he continues fighting to feed his young family, and is doing worse and worse as the sport evolves further beyond its brawling origins.

The doc is stark and visceral in its portrayal of the physical toll of the sport, showing both the in-match hits and the scars following in a brutal macro one never sees in pay-per-view. I am no stranger to watching televised fights and I still found myself wincing a lot more than I would watching a typical UFC match. The soundtrack is also an unusual, though welcome, choice. The grating nu-metal and hard rock typical of these events is eschewed in favour of languid atmospheric guitar work.

The Smashing Machine is definitely recommended viewing for fans of mixed martial arts, but it is good enough a feature to appeal to any who enjoy documentary portraiture.

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