Cradle of Champions
Following three amateur boxers as they work their way to the top of New York’s Golden Glove tournament, the world’s oldest, biggest and most prestigious amateur boxing event, Bartle Bull’s Cradle of Champions is Rocky in real life. You might think that the romanticised passion and high-stakes dramatics of the sport captured in Sylvester Stallone’s underdog classic is just pure Hollywood fantasy, but this documentary shows that boxing really is everything to these people; those who want to prove something to themselves, to be an example to their community, and to do whatever it takes to make their dreams and ambitions become their reality.
Beginning as the three fighters – each of whom has already shown themselves to be accomplished athletes – sign up for the tournament and following through their training to the final bell, Bull’s cinéma verité approach to the subject matter keeps the events as grounded in reality as physically possible, and by doing so the aspirations of the film’s central subjects are allowed to soar even higher. The dreams are real, the conflicts are real, the struggles and heartbreak are real. Even when some interviewees speak in hyperbole, their love and admiration for their sport are unquestionable. Though the fighters aren’t the most interesting subjects captured on film, the documentary does an exceptional job in translating how much winning the tournament means to them onto the screen. So much so that the climatic fight carries just as much stakes as any blockbuster boxing movie.
In spite of his predominately grounded approach, Bull is unable to help himself from indulging in some of the tropes of the sporting genre – especially the training montage, which crops up a lot. Watching prolonged sequences of the fighters training to the backdrop of some rather strange music choices makes their hard work seem more like a poor homage to Rocky, subsequently undercutting the reality of their situation in favour of reinforcing the similarities with the Hollywood film.
However, when digging a little deeper past the surface-level chase-your-dreams narrative, it becomes clear that the documentary doesn’t offer much else. There’s no dramatic twists nor any attempts to connect to broader issues. That’s the problem with real life: it’s not always that interesting. Although the truth isn’t stranger than fiction, this real-life tale of three athletes literally fighting for their dreams is still as exhilarating as any Hollywood knock-out.
Cradle of Champions is released in select cinemas on 22nd March 2019.
Watch the trailer for Cradle of Champions here: