Before I saw Shaun Paul Piccinino’s action film, American Fighter, I had seen it a million times before. And I’d still watch it again.
What am I walking about? American Fighter is the story of college wrestler Ali (George Kosturos). It’s the early 1980s, and Iran is about to change in a nation-altering revolution. Ali comes from an affluent family, and he’s sent to America for his safety. As the revolution heats up, Ali’s parents are pulled off their flight to the States, and his dad is executed on the tarmac. His mother is left to fend for herself.
After learning of his father’s murder, Ali decides to hire a smuggler to get his mom out of Iran, but the price is $30 grand. Of course, he doesn’t have it. The talented wrestler is then introduced to the world of illegal underground fighting by his best friend, Ryan (Bryan Craig). Ali is taken in under the wing of fight promoter McClellen (Tommy Flanagan), who pays him handsomely for each fight and every win. Ali also catches the eye of the drunk, grizzled fighter Duke (Sean Patrick Flannery), who teaches him the ins-and-out of underground fighting.
As successful as Ali is, he’s not earning enough money fast enough. McClellan offers a chance to put all his money in on that one big fight against the best of the best, but he appears not to be the person we think he is. Needing to get his mother out of Iran as soon as possible, Ali agrees and, of course, gets beaten to a pulp, along with best friend Ryan, and loses everything. Let’s also not forget there’s a girl, Heidi (Allison Paige), and anti-Muslim hatred sprinkled throughout, and of course, a training montage.
“…taken in under the wing of fight promoter McClellen, who pays him handsomely for each fight and every win.”
We’ve seen this story before, right? An amateur, raw, though talented fighter shows promise. Overconfidence takes over, and he loses the big fight. Now he has to rebuild his life and reconnect with everyone he disappointed along the way. I’ll point to Creed as the most recent example. Ali’s twist is he’s Persian, and the anti-Muslim hate makes for a compelling story. Ali has something higher than him as his motivation to fight, which is the safety of his mother. There’s a good twist on the hostage/ransom plot lines as well.
Here’s why you need to see American Fighter. It’s the fighting! There’s a lot of it, and it looks incredible, like really incredible. On the spectrum of professional wrestling and actual fighting, it gets close to an actual brawl and falls just short of excessively bloody and body mangling. I also like the fact that the fighting is consistent with a specific style for each actor.
George Kosturos carries American Fighter. His acting is above average, and his fighting makes him look like this kid look believable. The bouts never feel choreographed or staged for the camera. Like a good porno, we’re not here for the story. We’re here for the fighting, and thankfully the scenes in between are bearable.
"…the fighting...looks incredible..."