×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Specimen

The unsettling strength of John Hyams' feature-length docu on the bone-smashing world of professional mixed-martial-arts competitions is the unfettered honesty, bordering on despair, that Hyams draws from interviews with fighters.

With:
With: Mark "The Specimen" Kerr, Mark Coleman, Bas Rutten, Dawn Staples, Eddie Goldman.

The unsettling strength of John Hyams’ feature-length docu on the bone-smashing world of professional mixed-martial-arts competitions is the unfettered honesty, bordering on despair, that Hyams draws from interviews with fighters like the aging, weary Mark Coleman and the opiate-addicted Mark Kerr, who lends his nickname — “The Specimen” — to pic’s title. Hyams intercuts the interviews with multi-angle closeups of the fighters in action, creating a completely detached study of some of the most brutal “sports entertainment” ever documented, without herding the viewer into a moralistic pen. Pic is something of a tough sell, but should be of interest to theatrical distribs, its vivid images imbued with a power that will be somewhat diminished on small screens.

This bruising spectacle, which makes widely seen pro-wrestling docu “Beyond the Mat” seem suitable for pre-schoolers by comparison, is neither a parade of shock images nor a Freudian deconstruction of its subjects. It’s a film about the excruciating pursuit of money and self-gratification, which Hyams makes strangely analogous to the everyday workplace, suggesting that the conflicts and aggressions being worked out in the no-holds-barred ring are merely a more primal expression of what anyone who works any kind of job encounters daily. Maybe it’s a more honest expression, too, given the astonishing friendliness with which these competitors interact before and after bashing each other to a gooey pulp. But is this entertainment?

Popular on Variety

Sprung from age-old Brazilian roots, the current incarnation of no-holds-barred fighting came to prominence in the U.S. in the early 1990s, largely via a series of televised pay-per-view tournaments called “The Ultimate Fighting Championship,” which were promptly banned in most of the 50 states once media-watchdog groups and politicians got wise to them.

Beginning in August ’99, pic follows the better part of a year in the life of Kerr, a onetime UFC champion now fighting competitively in Japan, where the tournaments (like most forms of extreme entertainment) flourish. One of the first images Hyams gives us is that of Kerr paying a routine visit to his physician, where his unclothed body is revealed to be a relief map of bulbous bruised peaks and wide scarred valleys. Why does Kerr subject himself to such agony? Partly for the thrill, as he tells a curious onlooker in a priceless waiting-room encounter. Mostly, though, Kerr can’t put into words what drives him. Fighting is his job and, ultimately, something preferable and more rewarding than the blue-collar job in which he might otherwise find himself.

However, the sheer physical pain Kerr endures has made him addicted to prescription painkillers, which take their inevitable toll on the fighter, his girlfriend and the other significant people in his life (including close friend and co-competitor Coleman) right up through a near-fatal overdose in October ’99. After that, pic becomes something of a comeback story, as Kerr trains for a so-called “champion of champions” match in Japan.

Like everything that is good about “The Specimen,” the comeback saga is viewed from afar, with the filmmakers refusing to take an emotional position on the circumstances. Should we really feel excited that Kerr is revving up to hurl himself back into what seems an inevitably self-destructive cycle? The question lingers long after the film has run its course. (Though pic ends two years ago, the filmmakers — seemingly with intent — provide no postscript updating us on Kerr’s fortunes.)

Tech qualities are strong by docu standards.

The Specimen

Production: A Solaris presentation in association with Goodman Capital Partners of a Jon Greenhalgh production. Produced by Jon Greenhalgh, Steve Schlueter, John Hyams, Neil Fazzary. Executive producers, Gavin O'Connor, Greg O'Connor, Michael Robinson, Kevin Goodman. Directed by John Hyams.

Crew: Camera (color, digital video), Steve Schlueter; editors, Hyams, Jordan Mokriski; music, Boxhead Ensemble; sound, Neil Fazzary; associate producers, Mike Masone, Josh Fagin, Frederico Lapenda. Reviewed at Dolby Screening Room, Burbank, May 15, 2002. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Intl. Showcase; also in CineVegas Film Festival -- Pioneer Documentaries.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Mark "The Specimen" Kerr, Mark Coleman, Bas Rutten, Dawn Staples, Eddie Goldman.

More Film

  • Jesse Eisenberg

    Film News Roundup: Jesse Eisenberg to Star in Indie Thriller 'Wild Indian' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In today’s film news roundup, Jesse Eisenberg is starring and exec producing “Wild Indian”; Jason Bateman is directing “Shut In”; “Saturday Night Live” veteran Paula Pell is honored; and the Palm Springs Film Festival sets its opening and closing films. CASTING Jesse Eisenberg is starring in and executive producing the independent thriller “Wild Indian,” Variety [...]

  • disney d23

    Top 19 Media Trends of 2019: Disney's Box Office Dominance

    The domestic box office market share over the last 12 years provides a sobering reminder of how important franchises are to studio performance, especially for Disney. Although the 2019 box office looks to be falling short of the previous year’s total, Disney is ending the decade on the highest possible note, becoming the first studio ever [...]

  • Pierce Brosnan Cinderella

    Pierce Brosnan to Play the King in Camila Cabello's 'Cinderella'

    Pierce Brosnan will play the king opposite Camila Cabello in writer-director Kay Cannon’s new telling of “Cinderella” for Sony Pictures. Billy Porter, Idina Menzel and Nicholas Galitzine are also confirmed to star in the film, which will be released in theaters Feb. 5, 2021. Cabello, a multi-platinum selling and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, will be integrally involved [...]

  • John Boyega

    John Boyega: 'Star Wars' Fandom Conflict Is 'The Most Stupid Thing in the World'

    Unlike his “Star Wars” compatriots Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, John Boyega enjoys a robust presence on social media, with nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter and over 1.6 million followers on Instagram. He regularly engages with fans, and posts inside looks at his life inside the “Star Wars” media maelstrom. It’s meant that Boyega [...]

  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

    'Watchmen' Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Says He Would Consider Playing Superman

    Those who are caught up on “Watchmen” know Yahya Abdul-Mateen II knows how to strike the balance between understated and omnipotent. He’s also no stranger to playing superheroes, as Aquaman’s nemesis Black Manta in the DC Universe. But asked whether he would consider taking on another DC Extended Universe role — Superman — Abdul-Mateen told [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    'Once Upon a Time,' 'Farewell,' 'Judy' Excluded From Writers Guild Awards

    The scripts for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” and Tom Edge’s “Judy” have been excluded from the Writers Guild of America Awards. Unlike other guilds, the WGA excludes as candidates any screenplays not produced under its jurisdiction or that of another guild. That’s because the WGA has the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content