This German documentary about Ukrainian world heavyweight champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko follows the brothers’ pugilist careers in enough blow-by-blow detail to satisfy the most demanding fight enthusiast. The indomitable siblings’ unusual background, huge size and highly developed intellects, as well as the dramatic ups, downs and rebounds of their interwoven sagas, should result in a fascinating dual biodoc. But the two-hour pic’s lack of economy makes for heavy slogging, with no boxing minutiae too small for exhaustive exposition. Opening in limited release bicoastally on Oct. 21, docu will likely triumph only on sports cablers.
The Klitschkos’ domination of the international heavyweight division — five titles have been won, at different times or simultaneously, by the brothers — is statistically staggering. In deference to their mother, they have never fought each other.
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TV documentarian Sebastian Dehnhardt dynamically captures the action in the ring, with slo-mo punches impacting opponents’ bodies. Challengers are dispatched in rapid succession in a montage of lightning kayos, while more competitive bouts are depicted in gory, suspenseful detail. But even here, the drama is undercut by misplaced emphasis — Dehnhardt’s insertion of a coach’s rambling postmortem on the bout or a doctor’s long-winded technical explanation of an injury.
In the ring, Dehnhardt meticulously contrasts Vitali’s instinct-driven style with Wladimir’s more intellectual, chess-like approach. Absent the bouts, though, the docu becomes rudderless, failing, for instance, in lengthy crosscut interviews with the highly articulate siblings, to indicate who’s who — a significant problem, since the brothers, despite a five-year age difference, look and sound remarkably alike. The fighters’ parents are prominently featured, but wives and children pop up only briefly, without sufficient introduction. Fascinating stories, such as the close encounters the family had with the Chernobyl disaster, are drowned in a sea of run-on anecdotes.
Moreover, the brothers’ range of interests far exceeds that of Dehnhardt, who ruthlessly brings everything back to boxing. What distinguishes the brothers — educated sons of a Soviet army officer, they speak four languages and hold PhDs — is their myriad lifestyle options in a dangerous, hardscrabble profession that, as fellow-boxers hasten to point out, is generally the province of the desperately poor. Yet Vitali’s political career is given short shrift, while his philanthropic ventures are reduced to a medal-pinning photo op.