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.
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.