Drowned in striking visuals and dizzying sounds, but devoid of much substance , “Boxer Rebellion” is an impressionistic documentary about a Wall Street yuppie who became a professional boxer in middle age. Celia Cotelo’s ambitious effort to portray the inner workings of an obsessive psyche is so intense and hard to watch that it might be limited almost exclusively to the festival and arthouse circuits.
David Lawrence, a wealthy and powerful stockbroker, was quite content with his life until he discovered the allure, risk and challenge of the boxing world. At 44, Lawrence was not young, but with the assistance of a great trainer — and obsessive urge to succeed in a milieu totally different from his own — he mastered the necessary skills and even excelled at the brutal sport.
Cotelo should be congratulated for resisting a traditional form to tell the bizarre odyssey of her unusual hero. In moments — but only in moments — she achieves brilliance, as when Lawrence is dressed as a surreal clown who fondles a Barbie doll, or when he hangs dollar bills on a clothesline to dry while expressing his inner thoughts and emotions about boxing.
Though innovative in style, “Boxer Rebellion” falls short of its goal of exploring a complex mind and provoking viewers about their own anxieties and aggressions. Clearly, Cotelo has tried to make an innovative film, the cinematic corollary of a poem, but Lawrence’sstatements never go beyond the fraudulent existentialism of “boxing makes me feel young” or addressing the audience directly with “I am what you’re afraid to be.”
Indeed, after 30 minutes or so, the surreal imagery and distorted sounds become so repetitious, and the disjointed symbols and metaphors pile up so voluminously, that it’s understandable that “Boxer Rebellion” had the largest number of walkouts of any documentary shown this year at Sundance.