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A movie directed by Norman Jewison

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One F.I.S.T.

  • Jun 8, 2011

It has been a while since I've reviewed a film purely because I have not been watching a lot of movies lately. No one is more surprised than I that I've come back to Movie Hype to review this type of film. It was purely by chance that I located this interesting gem. Jason and I were browsing the local channels and happened to come across it right when it was starting. We were surprised at how young Sylvester Stallone looked and were quickly drawn into the plot. F.I.S.T. is a loosely based fictionalized story about Jimmy Hoffa and the American labor unions. Knowing very little about the history of unions, we decided the film was worth sitting through commercials to see in its entirety.

F.I.S.T. is a 1978 movie directed by Norman Jewison starring Sylvester Stallone. Stallone plays a Cleveland warehouse worker named Johnny Kovak. Kovak and his friends have hit rough times when they are unjustly fired from their current jobs because of corrupt business owners. Luckily, Kovak and his best friend Abe Belkin (played by David Huffman) become involved in the labor union of the fictional "Federation of Inter State Truckers," which is a bit odd considering neither man was a trucker. Through his interaction with Abe and the other men in the union, Kovak learns a lot about life and fighting back for the "little guy." As time progresses and he becomes deeper embroiled in union politics, Kovak discovers that maintaining one's principles in the face of corruption and indifference is more difficult than can be imagined. Despite his hardships, Kovak becomes an inspiring legend for the rest of the Teamsters as he expands F.I.S.T.'s influence across the United States. 

Starring alongside Sylvester Stallone and David Huffman are such actors as Kevin Conway (plays Vince Doyle, a local gangster), Rod Steiger (plays Senator Madison, determined to bring Kovak down in order to make a name for himself), Melinda Dillon (plays Anna Zarinkas, Kovak's wife), Peter Boyle (plays Max Graham, the original president of F.I.S.T.), and many more. All of these actors were well-suited to their roles, but my favorites were Stallone and Huffman. Stallone is the epitome of F.I.S.T., constantly raising his hand up in salute to the other men of the union. He is all rock as he stands in the way of big corporations who overwork the truck drivers. Kovak's chant and call to rally is simple enough: "We are one fist." Stallone's performance was truly stellar. Contrasting the brashness of Stallone is Huffman's character, Kovak's childhood best friend. The pair are truly opposites with Kovak being hot-headed and easily angered because he's tired of being stepped on by those who think they are better than him. Abe, on the other hand, is softer. He follows Kovak's lead like a younger brother looking up to his older brother who he idolizes. Yet when push comes to shove, Abe is just as resilient as Kovak embodying the motto of F.I.S.T. more than Kovak himself. The story was as much about the labor unions as it was about these two characters' relationships, which was truly fascinating to watch unfold over the course of the film. Their performances and their story make this film worthy of being watched. 

Initially, I really liked the film. The beginning was very easy to get into because it starts right in the middle of the action. Having no idea what the film was about, I was completely unprepared for what was in store for me. The film takes place in the 1930's in Cleveland, Ohio. At first I thought it might have something to do with the Depression or WWII. After seeing the men at work, I thought it would be about a fighting club, maybe a precursor to the ever popular and famous film Fight Club. I was utterly flabbergasted when I learned that F.I.S.T. was an acronym for "Federation of Inter State Truckers." The film was going to be about truckers and labor unions? This didn't seem like a traditional Sylvester Stallone movie. How wrong I was. This was the perfect role for Stallone, and I don't think it would have been as powerful as it turned out to be if anyone else was in the leading role.

As the movie progressed, though, I became confused and disillusioned; this occurred about half-way in after the first major strike. The plot developed fast, which I appreciated, but it also took turns I wasn't prepared for, which left me scratching my head in irritation. I didn't understand all the characters' actions or interactions with each other. I also didn't like how quickly the men aged from young idealists to aged realists. What upset me most was the ending. I had really invested myself into Kovak and Abe's characters. I was really excited about the premise and the cause they were fighting for. Because of my emotional attachment to the protagonists, the ending infuriated me. It was s a weak way to conclude such an initially strong film, which is the main reason I dropped my rating of this movie.

The camera angles and directing skills were nothing to exclaim over, especially when you compare it to modern productions. The best moments were when the camera zoomed in with close-ups of Stallone's characters. These were especially important during the poignant and moving speeches Kovak made throughout the film to the truck drivers. There were some good panoramic shots too. One of my favorites was when Kovack stands outside the courthouse looking at all the truckers who have blocked traffic to support his fight. He gives his traditional salute to the average worker and starts shouting "one fist." I do think the director accomplished what he hoped to with the visual production of this piece. 

There are no special affects in the film, but I did like the aging affect that the makeup artists designed for all the main characters. It starts in the 1930's and ends in the 1970's. All the actors looked older to me; I especially liked the gray streaks in Stallone's dark locks. He looked refined, as if he had come a long way since his initial role in F.I.S.T., which he had. He had not only aged physically, but he had matured mentally too. The only other aspects about the sets that impressed me was the contrast of technologies from the 1930's to modern times. I was fascinated by the historical advancements we made as a nation, especially in terms of the types of trucks the men were driving. As a history major and overall history buff, I was drawn to this film purely because of the attention to small details. Strangely enough, the sets in this film hearken me back to the intricate details of a film such as Top Hat, which I have reviewed in Movie Hype and The Silver Screens Classic Films Community.

One aspect that surprised me about the film was the music. Initially, I didn't think I would like the music because I didn't expect it to play any type of important role. Albeit, there wasn't a lot in the movie, but what there was emotionally touched me. My favorites were the instrumental music, especially the ending music, which played periodically throughout the film before being played in the credits.

Even though the film ultimately disappointed me (for the aforementioned reasons of the confusing pacing, plot details, and disappointing ending), I was still glad to have seen it. I learned a lot about labor unions and strikes in the 1930's, though much of it was overly "Hollywood." I liked that a lot of it was loosely based on Jimmy Hoffa, even the ending, and that the film inspired me enough to want to learn more about this movement and mysterious man, if only to disprove the ending. The best part about this film was seeing a side to Sylvester Stallone that I hadn't seen before. This guy can really act! He was passionate without seeming fake or overly sentimental. He pulled me into the story of the 1930's and had me wanting to raise my fist in triumph with the rest of the men. It made me proud to be an American and gave me renewed respect for all that labor unions have accomplished in this great nation of ours. It was truly inspirational as well as heart-breaking. 

In the end, I do recommend this film to all audiences. It's worth seeing if only to watch Stallone shine as a relatively new actor. The violence is minimal, nothing compared to some of the things we see in contemporary films, and there is no nudity. In fact, the relationships between Kovak and Anna are very prim and proper, which obviously fit the sentimentality of the era. It added just the perfect element of romance and courtship to an otherwise political activist film. After watching this movie, I can't help but wonder "Where's Johnny?" and whether or not there will be or has been another union activist quite like this fictional one or even quite like Jimmy Hoffa. I guess only time will tell.
One F.I.S.T.! One F.I.S.T.! One F.I.S.T.!

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November 22, 2011
Excellent write up
June 18, 2011
As a Stallone flick, this picture's lack of a Teamsters workout montage and a giant, work-glove-clad novelty fist smashing through a matte painting of management offices were glaring omissions. A-ha-ha-ha.
Jewison was definitely one of the better genre filmmakers to function in the shadow of the New Hollywood greats; this and ...And Justice for All are probably his most recognizable populist efforts, and evidence that he could coax great performances from talented leading men.
My only complaint regarding F.I.S.T. is its script's trite depiction of the union leader's mild chagrin regarding his own corruption - a romanticized and wholly inaccurate depiction of the great pragmatist Hoffa, who never saw a dirty deed he didn't love if it advanced his (mostly admirable) goals as expected. In this way, the otherwise bathetic DeVito-helmed Hoffa biopic starring Nicholson was superior.
This really is an entertaining viewing and yet another example of Rod Steiger's genius for portraying the embodiment of venal ugliness (see also: Doctor Zhivago). Obviously, Steiger was one of Jewison's favorite recurring performers. A union film was screaming for production in the wake of Hoffa's disappearance, and the casting of this one is deceptively apt: despite Stallone's ethnic incongruity with his counterpart in reality, working-class audiences already adored him and, as you mentioned, he is a gifted actor whose talents shine when properly directed in an appropriate role (Mangold's Cop Land being the most obvious example). Also, he looks so cute with his little cap and pail.
Thanks for reminding me...!
June 28, 2011
I had never seen anything by Jewison before this one. 

I see what you mean about the romanticized view of Kovak's corruption.

I loved the little cap and pail, lol!

Thanks so much for your detailed comment and for reading my review. :)
June 28, 2011
Any review that elicits my memory as this one did is worth reading!
If nothing else, Jewison's collaborations with Steve McQueen are good viewing: The Cincinatti Kid, an inferior though enjoyable poker analog to Rossen's adaptation of The Hustler, and The Thomas Crown Affair, one of the better heist films of the '60s. Both are packed with future New Hollywood superstars and more stories can be attributed to Jewison's career than I can recall! Moonstruck was cute, too.
June 29, 2011
Thanks for the recommendations. I'll add them to my ever growing queue of films, lol! I've enjoyed "The Thomas Crown Affair." Very nice indeed!
June 16, 2011
I keep saying it, but people keep ignoring me: Sylvester Stallone is a highly underrated actor. He was an Oscar nominee! His reputation keeps getting in the way of the respect he really deserves as an actor. Give him the right script and he can really rock it. Apparently FIST was the right script. So was Rocky. Also Copland and Get Carter.
June 17, 2011
LOL! Aw! Bad people!

I agree with you, too. I've been impressed with the films I've seen Stallone in. I've never seen Rocky, but we did recently buy a box collection of it that I hope to watch one of these days. This script was perfect for Stallone! I also agree that his reputation is probably getting in the way.

Have you ever seen Cliffhanger? I remember enjoying that one too.
June 17, 2011
I saw it once, years ago, but I don't remember thinking all that highly of it. I barely remember it at all.
June 17, 2011
Yeah, most people didn't like it...but for some reason I did! LOL!
June 09, 2011
no nudity...pass. just kidding. Seriously, this is a well-written review and exceptional in the way you pointed out your observations. Loosely based on Hoffa, eh? Have you seen the one with Jack Nicholson called "Hoffa"?
June 09, 2011

Thanks so much for the compliments on the writing. I'm surprised I wrote it as well as I did because I was up late working on it...maybe until 4am or so. I finally decided to finish it the next day because I wasn't feeling well.

I have never heard of that other film. In fact, I had never heard of Hoffa until I did research on this film. I figured it had to be based on a real man. There was so much passion to it!
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Adrianna Simone ()
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