The real-life inspiration for the character, Rocky Balboa portrayed in Sylvester Stallions' Rocky movie is revealed in the French Canadian director Philippe Falardeau's feature film Chuck. Philippe honors the life of boxing legend Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), his 15-minutes of fame and the effect it had on his future.
Producer Lati Grobman says, "It's not a boxing movie, per se. The rise and fall story...the redemptive story...defies our expectations."
Chuck Wepner was a liquor salesman, a husband, a father and a passionate prizefighter. Chuck was the pride of his home town Bayonne, New Jersey, as a heavyweight boxing champion known to all as the "Bayonne Bleeder." His love for the sport, his big heart, his tenacity to withstand a beating and come back for more earned Chuck the nickname. The willingness to take a beating opened up opportunities for highly acclaimed prizefighters to invite Wepner into the ring knowing that ultimately they would come out ahead. Professionally it was a win, win situation for all parties involved. Great headlines too.
Schreiber shares about the exact story elements that attracted him to the project. He says, "It wasn't just a straight ahead fight film." Adding, "I think that there's a theme in a lot of boxing movies about people who come from violent pasts or who are angry at the world. Wepner is a man with a genuine sweetness to him." Schreiber continues, "He fought for his fans, and he fought for recognition. I loved the idea about somebody who was willing to put himself through incredible physical punishment because he loved his audience so much." Touched by Wepner's character Schreiber hadn't seen a movie told quit like this boxer's fight game story. He wanted in. Schreiber notes that Wepner had to deal with becoming a sudden celebrity. And, asks the question as to how does an average person handle it? He adds, "There was no gradual development toward Chuck's fame. It was immediate and powerful, massive and overwhelming. Fame is complicated." Chuck's life story articulates all of the above.
Falardeau notes while doing research on Wepner's career, "Chuck was pummeled so badly by Sonny Liston that he suffered a broken nose and cheekbone contemplating retirement after 120 stitches." Adding, "Wepner quickly recovered and got back into the ring." He goes on to win eight matches in a row. An impressive feat.
In 1975, Chuck Wepner is chosen to fight The Greatest (Mohammed Ali), in a highly publicized title match. Chuck survived fifteen-rounds. Falardeau acknowledges, "He became the first man in boxing history to knock Ali to the canvas while he was defending the title. Enraged, Ali rose to his feet and pummeled Wepner unmercifully, ending the fight nineteen seconds into the 15th-round."
Wepner had a promising career staying on top simply by fighting boxing stars not to mention the connection for Stallion's screenplay and film Rocky. Wepner's ego, his invincible attitude and a big mouth controlled a downward spiral toward his rock-bottom, propelled by bad decisions that determined his destiny.
Based on a true story, the dreams of legendary champion heavy weight boxer, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) is the narrative of second chances. One of resilience and redemption.