Although the historical ramifications of the famous rivalry between boxers Joe Louis-Max Schmeling rivalry have been chronicled before, HOOP DREAMS director Steve James uses their story to examine the dark side of boxing and peek under the rock of Nazism. In 1936, on the eve of WWII, American boxer Joe Louis (Leonard Roberts) the Brown Bomber is poised to become world champion. But German pugilist Max Schmeling (Til Schweiger), beaten by Louis in an earlier fight, begs the Yankee boxing commission for a rematch. Behind the scenes, Louis's manager, Mike Jacobs (Bruce Weitz), offers scheduled opponent Jersey Joe Walcott (Anthony Russel) a cut of Louis's future earnings if he'll step aside and let Scmeling fight instead. Though Germany's propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels (Wilfred Hocholdinger), has misgivings, the cocky Schmeling knocks out Louis in the 12th round. Louis's fans turn on him and his career goes into a precipitous decline, while Schmeling’s victory at first propels him to the top of Berlin society. But Schmeling's friendships with Jews erode his status as an uber-Aryan idol and his succumbs to pressure to join the Nazi party. Schmeling defies Hitler by keeping his Jewish manager, Joe Jacobs (David Paymer), and during a second bout with Louis Schmeling gets the stuffing knocked out of him. Despite the vagaries of their intertwined fortunes, Louis and Schmeling become friends outside the ring. After the war, Schmeling rebound by taking a public relations job in Europe. Louis is less fortunate, descending to the wrestling circuit as the IRS hounds him for back taxes. But to his dying day, Louis can count on a friendship rooted in common experience; both were used as political pawns and both survived the fleeting joy of championship. Although this cautionary tale has the stilted feeling common to international co-productions, leads Roberts and Schweiger are magnetic. Screenwriter Jason Horwitch weaves a series of bitter ironies into the story, leading viewers through a jungle populated by promoters, propagandists and sycophants.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Although the historical ramifications of the famous rivalry between boxers Joe Louis-Max Schmeling rivalry have been chronicled before, HOOP DREAMS director Steve James uses their story to examine the dark side of boxing and peek under the rock of Nazism.… (more)