One of the most realistic and gripping boxing films ever made, THE SET-UP is a tautly constructed, emotionally charged examination of one night in the life of an aging boxer, Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan). Played out in real time as 72 uninterrupted minutes of Stoker's life, the movie
begins as a crowd gathers in front of the arena in anticipation of the evening's bouts. Although almost washed up, Stoker is convinced that if he can win that night's bout he'll be back on the road to the top, "just one punch away" from being able to collect a big purse, open his own tavern, and
retire. Meanwhile, his seedy manager (George Tobias) has taken $50 from a hood in return for Stoker's throwing the fight. Since, as of late, Stoker has been getting knocked out regularly after the second round, the manager simply doesn't tell the fighter about the setup. Back in the locker room,
Stoker watches as the fighters--ranging from fresh-out-of-high-school talent to punchy veterans--prepare for their bouts, while he awaits the fight of his life. THE SET-UP is an amazingly powerful film. Within a very simple format (the screenplay was based on a poem), director Robert Wise and his
performers present a myriad of criticisms and emotions, making for one of the most brutal condemnations of boxing ever filmed. The fighting is shown as dehumanizing and cruel, the audience as a mass of animalistic maniacs who live vicariously through the boxers. Everyone, from trainers to
promoters to gangsters, is a seedy, uneducated opportunist; only the fighters themselves are shown to have any self-respect. Ryan gives the best performance of his career as the quiet, inarticulate fighter who is determined to stick with the game because he feels that he's "just one punch away"
from success. Ryan, who actually boxed for four years undefeated while at Dartmouth College, handles his role with great subtlety: always soft-spoken and sincere, Stoker clings to his simple beliefs and will take whatever punishment is necessary to retain his self-respect and dignity. The fight
scenes in THE SET-UP are among the best ever filmed, surpassed only by those in Martin Scorsese's incredible RAGING BULL.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: One of the most realistic and gripping boxing films ever made, THE SET-UP is a tautly constructed, emotionally charged examination of one night in the life of an aging boxer, Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan). Played out in real time as 72 uninterrupted minute… (more)