Editor’s Notes: Manny is out in limited release this Friday, January 23rd.
What is perhaps most palpable in their documentary is the respect that co-directors Gast and Moore have for their subject, world-record holder Philippine boxer Manny Pacquiao. They present an informal (since it is by no means an exhaustive) biography of a man who is a fighter, in boxing as well as in life; an individual who has known struggles growing up, having a family, being famous, and being burdened with various tasks from within his circle or outside (and sometimes not necessarily to his benefit). With access to a range of archival and actuality footage of Pacquiao, and to the man himself via interviews and a voiceover in English and Tagalog, the documentary provides a close view of the man, which perhaps accounts for the choice of his first name as the film’s title.
It does not flinch from Pacquiao’s different phases of his career, or rather his multiple careers apart from boxing …
The documentary can be a part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series; standard in terms of documentary form but very compelling in the story it tells: one of hardship, a rise in the ranks, and triumphs, precisely due to Pacquiao’s fighting spirit. The film begins by establishing this characteristic in the man: footage from the December 2012 Pacquiao vs. Marquez fight segues to actuality footage accompanied by a voiceover from Pacquiao speaking of why he fights, which Liam Neeson then echoes through his voice-of-God narrator about the nature of fighting and Pacquiao’s indomitable will. In this vein, the archival footage of his early fights as a teenager is a sight to behold, especially given the back story of him having to drop out of school at sixth grade and beginning training at age twelve. He continued his boxing trajectory at age thirteen, when he moved by himself to Manila and convinced others that he was eighteen (when he was in fact only sixteen at the time) in order to get a boxing license. Where he has gotten this will is merely implied in the present-day sequence of Pacquiao revisiting the site where his family’s house once stood and of his difficult childhood during the tumultuous era of the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s under Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. This particular sequence with Pacquiao in his hometown is genuinely affective and visually striking; seeing him fishing with others as he did as a child also solidifies his humble but very hard-working origins.
…seeing him fishing with others as he did as a child also solidifies his humble but very hard-working origins.
But Gast and Moore do not paint a saintly figure with Pacquaio. They address the good—Los Angeles trainer Freddie Roach (supported by great footage of his rapport with Pacquiao), strength/conditioning coach Alex Ariza—the bad, and the ugly sides—manager Rod Nazario and advisor Michael Koncz—of Pacquiao’s career. It does not flinch from Pacquiao’s different phases of his career, or rather his multiple careers apart from boxing, however dubious they may be: acting, singing, politics. Moreover, it is nonjudgmental. It does not make the corruptions within his entourage bigger/smaller than they are; the same with his life of poverty, various career choices, and his losses in boxing (unjust or earned). In this way, Gast and Moore ultimately highlight first and foremost Pacquiao as an extraordinary athlete.
Standard in terms of documentary form but very compelling in the story it tells: one of hardship, a rise in the ranks, and triumphs, precisely due to Pacquiao’s fighting spirit.